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Friday Profile: Joseph Bull, 2012 Winner Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship
Imagine sitting in a fluid dynamics course as an undergraduate biomedical engineering student. What teaching techniques could your instructor use to keep you engaged? Students of Professor Joe Bull can tell you quite a bit about that question--and about great teaching in general. In 2012 Professor Bull was honored with an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship, an award that recognizes outstanding undergraduate education at University of Michigan.
Bull’s students might tell you that...
- he organizes each of his lectures around a practical problem that they can readily recognize as relevant to their everyday lives. Whereas many initially dread a course based around, say, the principles of biofluid dynamics, they quickly come to enjoy his clear lectures about how blood moves through chambers of the heart.
- his lectures are sometimes a "choose your own adventure" game, as he comes in with more than one outline prepared and decides upon the direction based on the questions students pose.
- he uses technology to stay connected with students. For example, during a term with demading travel obligations, he did not want to decrease his accessibility to students, so he used Google+ Hangouts to hold office hours.
These same students might also describe Bull as an extraordinarily caring teacher. As one put it, "Dr. Bull is one professor I feel comfortable enough to approach and discuss my current classes, seek advice from, and share my future ambitions with."
As with all Thurnau Professors, Bull's approaches in the classroom are only one facet of his great impact as a teacher. His contributions to U-M students' education have focused as well on curriculum design, mentoring, program development, and outreach. He has been a leader in developing the undergraduate biomedical engineering program (only 10 years old), especially its focus on experiential learning. He has also devoted significant energy to recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority students in engineering.
Bull's colleagues commend his commitment to diversifying the graduate student body as a key facet of his contribution to undergraduate education at U-M: like great professors, diverse GSIs and graduate student role models significantly enrich the undergraduate experience. Bull's example is a keen reminder that faculty can help positively shape undergraduate education in many different ways, producing both in and out of the classroom (in the words of the Thurnau Prize) "a demonstrable impact on the intellectual development and lives of their students."
To learn about other outstanding U-M teachers, click the "Friday Profiles" tag button below.