Q&A with 2015-16 Outstanding Faculty Award (Teaching) honoree
…Professor of Mathematics Keith Schwingendorf
This is the third in a series of Q&A profiles focusing on PNW’s six recently-recognized 2015-16 Outstanding Faculty Award recipients. Professor of Mathematics Keith Schwingendorf earned Outstanding Faculty honors for Teaching. Remaining Q&A profiles will be published in subsequent Points of Pride issues.
Q: Summarize your years of faculty service.
KS: My previous positions include: founding Dean of the College of Science, Purdue North Central (2006-2013), Chair of the Mathematics/Statistics/Physics Department, North Central (2002-2006).
Prior to joining the PNC faculty in 1991, I was a mathematics instructor at Purdue West Lafayette (1973-1991), where I taught a wide range of mathematics courses. I taught calculus to classes of about 500 freshman engineering and science students and multivariable calculus and differential equations to classes of about 200 sophomore students. In addition, I mentored and tutored hundreds of student athletes.
Q: How did you come to aspire to be a university professor?
KS: My goal as a freshman student was to become a high school mathematics teacher. I always wanted to help students succeed in their lives through education. Then I gradually attracted towards the beauty of mathematics. Also, I was fascinated by the teaching philosophy and methods of former Professor Ed Bednar at the Barker Mansion in Michigan City.
These things inspired me to study mathematics at a deeper level. Professor Bednar was also my basketball coach on the first PNC basketball team, and he further illustrated teaching concepts through preparation, setting high standards and expectations. When I transferred to PUWL, I was also inspired by several other outstanding teachers to obtain my Ph.D. and seek a university position.
Q: How do you define “outstanding” as a university teacher?
KS: I define university teachers as “outstanding” when they take a personal interest in each student – in addition to the content they are learning. “Outstanding” to me also means setting high expectations and supporting students to achieve those expectations, as well as believe that each student has the potential to succeed with the necessary time and effort.
An outstanding teacher also serves as a role model, making every effort to motivate all students to put forth their best possible effort. In doing so, outstanding teachers encourage students to give their best effort in each class, exhibit enthusiasm for the subject being taught and help students reflect on what they are learning as they learn to think critically. An outstanding teacher also helps students develop a positive attitude about themselves and their learning, as well as good habits that contribute to students’ personal and career success and the ability to reach their full intellectual potential.
Q: With respect to the fact that not all students learn the same way, how do you try to maximize teaching effectiveness with each of your students?
KS: I set the stage in classes by always trying to establish a friendly and supportive classroom environment to gain rapport, not only with myself and my students, but also with students and their classmates. I keep in contact with my students via email, phone and text, and ask how I can be of help to them, and praise them when they are doing well.
I encourage students to meet with me personally, including students in my distance learning courses, to discuss any problems they are having and ways in which we together can help them enhance their learning and understanding.
Q: What do you find to be the greatest challenge of teaching?
KS: The greatest challenge of my teaching at PNW is to encourage students to maximize their effort in balancing obligations at home, work and in other areas of their life, as well as improving their study habits and time management skills – and deal with the rigor of a university education.
Q: Have you changed your approach to teaching through the years? Explain.
KS: My teaching has changed through the years in a number of ways, including: (1) the way I handle questioning in the classroom, which I consider an “art.” I believe teachers should be patient and treat questions as a natural part of a class in an effort to help students gain confidence and feel free to respond and be at ease to contribute.
(2) My use of technology and the available technology itself appropriate to each of my classes has inspired the way I think about and deliver my teaching. (3) The use of group activities and other interactive techniques to involve students actively in class rather than the passive “lecture to” students, and (4) I stress the beauty of mathematics and how it provides a multitude of thinking strategies that can be applied to numerous real-life situations.
By sharing just a little bit of this with each student that walks into my classroom, I believe that I am contributing to the development and success of the student as an individual.
Q:What advice would you give a new or prospective colleague intent on being an effective Purdue Northwest faculty member?
KS:My advice to a new or prospective colleague intent on being an effective PNW faculty member is to seek out one or more senior faculty members to be a teaching mentor – talk with them, observe them and learn from them. Also, keep current and pursue methods to enhance your teaching and techniques to deal with the wide range of students you will be teaching. Additionally, seek out a number of strategies to help each student learn to deal with different learning styles. Show genuine interest in each of your students, be enthusiastic in your teaching, set high expectations, and keep in touch with your students.