Faculty: John Collier is N.H. Professor of the Year
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recently named John Collier ’72 Th’77 the 2010 New Hampshire Professor of the Year. Collier was one of 38 state winners selected from more than 300 top professors in the nation.
Collier, Dartmouth’s Myron Tribus Professor of Engineering Innovation, received his A.B., B.E., M.E., and D.E. from Dartmouth and has been a member of the engineering faculty since 1979. For three decades he has mentored students in ENGS 21: “Introduction to Engineering,” Thayer School’s signature undergraduate project-based course (see “A Few of Our Favorite Things”). He also teaches courses in design methodology, product design, and biomaterials, and advises the Dartmouth Formula Racing team on designing and building hybrid racecars.
At the end of a busy fall term — his ENGS 21 class had more than 70 students — Collier sat down with Dartmouth Engineer in his Cummings Hall office to talk about his approach to teaching. Behind him you can see photos of his students, which he uses to memorize their names.
“I love working with students and student groups to teach them problem-solving. In my view, those skills are one of the key distinguishing characteristics of Thayer graduates,” says Collier. “We work really hard at getting students to take a global perspective in solving problems. Teaching those techniques and making sure everyone has picked them up and demonstrated that they have also learned the skills to design and fabricate what they dream about — I’ve always thought of as my responsibility.”
Collier believes that to get a lot out of students, you have to give a lot of yourself. “If you’re going to do this effectively, you’ve got to get to know them. It’s important to learn the names of the students and be able to discuss their efforts in an informal atmosphere. I look for opportunities to show them that I am as invested in the process as they are. I’ve found that coming into the Couch Lab on Monday and Wednesday nights and working with the students has been very effective. I also encourage those who are interested to come over to the house and play pond hockey, or I mountain bike with them. I try to eliminate the barriers to dialogue and learning and share the hands-on fabrication process. For me that’s how I know that what I am doing has some impact,” he says. “My hope is that we are providing our students with the tools and strategies they need so that they can achieve their goals, whatever it is they want to make, whatever difference they want to make.”
Despite being N.H. Professor of the Year, Collier currently is taking extra advice on teaching from two engineering students who know him well: his sons Tom ’11, a senior, and Rob ’13, who just finished ENGS 21. “I don’t think there’s anything more intriguing than having your son or daughter in class. You get direct feedback on what works and what doesn’t work: ‘Dad, why do you do this, can’t you make your notes clearer, why don’t you tape the lectures?’ So now I tape the lectures and work on the notes,” says Collier. “I don’t think either of my children hesitates to criticize me. You know you’re going to get really honest criticism. They’re just going to be blunt. What could be more helpful than that? It’s too bad everyone can’t get that.”