This week and the week following Spring Break, The Michigan Daily will feature profiles on each of the six newly-selected Thurnau professors. Check back to learn about the recently honored professors’ passions for undergraduate teaching, their subject matter and innovations in pedagogy.
A typical day in a class with Prof. Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola — associate Chair of Romance Languages and Literatures — might involve a discussion on the themes behind the use of narcotics in Columbian tellanovellas. On North Campus, Prof. Jamie Phillips, who teaches electrical engineering and computer science, uses a flipped classroom technique — lecturing online and coaching through problem solving exercises in class — to introduce young engineers to circuits and semiconductor devices.
Herrero-Olaizola and Phillips are just two of six who have recently been honored with an Arthur F. Thurnau professorship for their commitment to undergraduate teaching.
In addition to Herrero-Olaizola and Phillips, four other University professors hailing from the School of Kinesiology, School of Art and Design, LSA and the College of Engineering were honored.
The winners include Associate Prof. Melissa Gross, who is appointed in School of Kinesiology and the School of Art & Design; Associate Prof. Anne McNeil, who teaches chemistry in LSA and macromolecular science and engineering in the College of Engineering; Associate Prof. Megan Sweeney, who is appointed in the LSA departments of English language and literature, women’s studies and Afroamerican and African studies; and Prof. Michael Thouless of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering. Herrero-Olaizola is appointed in the LSA Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and Phillips is of the College of Engineering’s electrical engineering and computer science department.
The professorship is named after Arthur Thurnau, who was a University student from 1902 to 1904 and who later endowed the program.
In interviews with The Michigan Daily, the professors emphasized their love for teaching and excitement to be named a Thurnau professor.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much from my students and colleagues,” Sweeney said. “I have been inspired by them and it feels like such a wonderful honor to be recognized as somebody who cares a lot about teaching, who loves doing it and love learning from my students and my colleagues.”
Herrero-Olaizola also named students as key components of the classroom community and discussion.
“The students really make the class,” he said. “We tend to think of professors making the class, but I really think the students are the ones making the class happen. I see myself more as a facilitator.”
Tenured faculty who receive the title also receive a $20,000 grant to support teaching activities, such as buying books, travel and graduate student assistance. They are also designated as Thurnau professors through the duration of their University career.
As for his plans with the money, Phillips said he will provide support for graduate student researchers in his lab. Herrero-Olaizola said he anticipates using the money for a bigger projector and screencapturing tools for his students’ film studies.
The Thurnau Charitable Trust, established by University alum Arthur Thurnau, funds the professorship. He attended the University from 1902 to 1904.
Deans, associate deans, chairs or academic program directors nominated professors, followed by an endorsement by each nomineee’s overseeing dean and letters of support from students and colleagues. These nominations were submitted in Decmber 2013.
University Provost Martha Pollack then recommended recipients to the Universitye’s Board of Regents, who approved and announced the recipients at their February meeting.