The engineering subjects Michigan Professor of the Year Andrew Gerhart teaches, such as thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and aeronautics, can be hard to learn. As he sees it, a big part of his job as a professor at Lawrence Tech University is to convince students that they can meet his high expectations.
“It is important to gain the trust of the student, because I set expectations high, but reachable. I have found that if students trust that the expectations are reachable, they will rise to the challenge that they are given,” he said.
That approach caught the attention of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, which have named Gerhart the 2010 Michigan Professor of the Year. This is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
“Just throwing things up on a chalkboard and having them take a test doesn’t teach them anything,” Gerhart said. “That’s something Lawrence Tech is big in trying to push – experiential and engaging learning as opposed to the old traditional format of chalkboard, lecture and notes.”
He believes that college professors have to develop new ways to interact with students who are accustomed to getting information from the Internet. “Our students have changed over the years. There’s been a shift in culture and society. People are much more visual learners. You’ve got to keep them engaged,” he said.
Beyond that, his teaching philosophy remains pretty simple – be fair and expect greatness. “You want to set the bar high, and because of that rapport and trust, they’re willing to try to reach that bar,” he said.