… with 2015-16 PNW Outstanding Faculty Award (Teaching) honoree
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Shengyong Zhang
In the first of six ‘Outstanding Faculty’ profiles this fall, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Shengyong Zhang shares his views about teaching and helping students succeed.
Q: How long have you served on the faculty at PNW and previously, Purdue North Central?
SZ: I have served on the faculty at PNW and previously, Purdue North Central, for more than six years.
Q: How do you define outstanding teaching?
SZ: There is a variety of criteria for assessing and evaluating teaching effectiveness. Some qualities I consider to be imperative for outstanding teaching include fully preparing lecture material with clear objectives, actively engaging students with appropriate teaching strategies, fostering critical thinking skills in the classroom, collecting student course evaluations and making action plans accordingly.
Q: What motivated you to want to teach in higher education?
SZ: I am lucky to have encountered so many excellent professors when I studied for my degrees at different universities. I was deeply impressed by their passion and enthusiasm in their teaching. After obtaining my Ph.D. degree, I decided to invest in higher education and hope I could impact the young generation as my professors influenced me with their passion.
Q: What fuels your passion to be the best teacher you can be?
SZ: My passion stems from various sources. One source is the content and materials of my teaching. It is interesting to me, for example, to simulate an engineering process with the aid of differential equations and vice versa, and interpret differential equations from an engineering point of view.
In addition, I am proud of my students when they make progress in their learning and finally make their own way forward. This reflects a personal success and further compels me to become the best teacher I can be.
Q: What do you find most satisfying about teaching?
SZ: The most satisfying aspect of teaching comes from the positive evaluations from students. It is exciting to learn that my students appreciated my work and loved the courses I taught.
Q: Given that not all students learn the same way, how do you attempt to connect with all your students to teach them effectively?
SZ: Similar to how patients with similar symptoms may have different causes, experienced doctors will treat them with different prescriptions. I encourage my students to constantly come forth with questions over the material. Afterwards, I adjust my answer to the most efficient method for them to compress the material to my standard.
Sometimes I answer questions from students directly, because I believe this is the most efficient way to help them. Other times, I ask students to answer indirect questions and guide them step by step to the answer of their original question.
Q: Within today’s 21st century society, what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of teaching in higher education, and how do you respond to that challenge?
SZ: There are many challenges facing engineering education for the 21th century, such as costs, student learning outcomes, etc. Each college of engineering has in place a mission statement and strives to produce graduates with satisfactory levels of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Various solutions have been presented to combat these challenges that students face.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits an engineering program based upon a series of general criteria. One of these criteria focuses on student outcomes and evaluates what graduates acquired as they progressed through the program. Personally, I set my teaching goal to help students develop an ability to identify, formulate, and solve practical problems in the field of mechanical engineering using techniques, skills, and modern engineering knowledge.
I employ different methods in my teaching to stimulate student interest in complex topics and help students reinforce interrelationships between topics. In addition to teaching goals and teaching practices, appropriate assessments are conducted at various times on various platforms to ensure the individual success of each student.