May 19, 2006

Lewandowski strives to create supportive atmosphere for students

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John Lewandowski fondly remembers the warm yet competitive atmosphere created by his professors when he was a student in materials science engineering. Now the Leonard Case, Jr. Professor of Engineering in the Case School of Engineering, Lewandowski works hard to create a similar atmosphere in his own classroom.

His students have responded by voting Lewandowski one of the 2006 winners of the John S. Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching. The award is given for outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising and classroom teaching. It is the second time Lewandowski has been nominated for the award.

As an undergraduate and graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Lewandowski was part of a group of students taught and advised by three professors, all of whom have become prominent in materials engineering. "It was a unique time for those three faculty and all their affiliated students. They really created a special atmosphere," he recalls. "When I accepted a faculty position at Case I told them I'd consider myself successful if I could establish the same atmosphere and rapport with my students as they had created there."

Lewandowski teaches graduate-level courses in fracture of materials and composite materials, as well as an undergraduate class in the mechanical behavior of materials.

One of the major ways Lewandowski achieves that goal is by using his far-flung network of former students and professional colleagues to assist both in his own teaching and advancing the careers of current students. "Whenever I hear about an interesting development (in materials science) I can usually call someone I know and say 'Send me some of that stuff.' It's very helpful to have the latest developments in the classroom when I'm teaching, and I learn from them too."

Similarly, whenever he goes to technical society meetings, Lewandowski makes a point of introducing his students to his friends and colleagues. "Making those connections for my students helps to ease the process into their becoming a professional engineer or scientist. It provides a way to link to the large alumni base here, and they are very supportive of the school and its students. They remember the good times they had here and are very willing to help students with a summer job or whatever else they can do."

The connections are also helpful when it comes time for students to make their first presentation at a technical society meeting. "I know from personal experience that can be a stressful experience, because for the first time you're addressing colleagues who are very senior in the field," he notes. "And to see a few friendly faces in the crowd, people who want to see you do well, is very important."

As a student Lewandowski took part in a co-op program where he performed failure analyses at a large oil refinery. He draws on his experiences there to illustrate for his students the importance of adapting their knowledge to the conditions at hand when confronting a problem.

"I emphasize the need to go beyond the standard references or what's in a handbook," he explains. "They have to realize the properties and specifications in a handbook were developed for a specific set of conditions, and just blindly following the handbook can sometimes get you into big trouble."

The need to go beyond the standard texts is part of a larger point, he says, which is the importance of drawing on many different sources of knowledge, and to continue learning after they've left the classroom. "It's important for them to know that there is a wealth of knowledge and information out there, in books, periodicals, people and wherever else they can find it."

For more information: Jeff Bendix 216-368-6070.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, May 19, 2006 10:57 AM | News Topics: Case School of Engineering, HeadlinesMain

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