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Professors link teaching, real-world experience

New ASU President's Professors combine love of teaching, real-world engagement.
May 11, 2016

3 new President's Professors engage in projects that matter while creating master learners at ASU

Three of Arizona State University’s top professors have been recognized for combining their passion for teaching with engagement with the larger world in ways that help ASU students become master learners.

Those three have been named President’s Professors for 2016: Mark Henderson, professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; Matthias Kawski, professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Mary Bates Neubauer, professor in the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

President’s Professors are faculty who have made significant contributions to undergraduate education at ASU. Awardees are chosen based on mastery of subject matter; enthusiasm and innovation in the learning and teaching process; ability to engage students within and outside the classroom; ability to inspire independent and original thinking in students and to stimulate students to do creative work; innovation in course and curriculum design; and scholarly contributions.

“Each of this year’s President’s Professors is an excellent example of what makes ASU one of the world’s leading universities,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow.

“Mark, Matthias and Mary are brilliant and engaging teachers at the top of their fields who convey their intellectual curiosity to their students in unique and innovative ways. We are lucky to have them here.”

The three 2016 winners were nominated by their departments last summer, and all three expressed shock when they found out earlier this month that they had received the honor.

“I’m totally humbled and honored because I know other President’s Professors whom I look up to, and to even be considered in the same category with them is a huge honor,” Henderson said.

Here’s a look at three of ASU’s top faculty members:

Mark Henderson

Henderson, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic campus, also is an associate dean at Barrett, the Honors College, and is the co-founder and director of GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program.

On GlobalResolve: The initiative began in 2005 when some faculty members were chatting over coffee. “We thought we could come up with a good vehicle for students to give back, like service learning, and as a way to provide some expertise in the developing world," said Henderson, who co-founded GlobalResolve with Brad Rogers, an associate professor of engineering at Poly.

In 2006, Henderson went to Ghana and met with village leaders to find out what they needed. “When you say, ‘I’m from ASU and I’m here to help,’ it’s an emotional and social commitment. I came back, we got students involved and we took off.”

Mark Henderson in Ghana

Mark Henderson was a co-founder of GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship initiative, and visited Ghana in 2006.

Since then students have gone to Peru and Costa Rica and will travel to Mexico this fall and Nepal next year. GlobalResolve works on projects in water, sanitation, energy, agriculture, health and education. Although Henderson’s students are engineers, the approach is interdisciplinary. “You need to consider politics, the economy, the language, the culture, all of that. If we just provided a very efficient cookstove without thinking about what they eat and who does the cooking, it’s a failure.” 

On teaching: “My favorite part is working informally with the student teams.

“Our engineering program at Poly is project-based. It’s so fun to watch the lightbulbs turn on when the students get some cool ideas.”

On students today: “The tone of the 1960s was, ‘Hey, we can offer the world some help.’ Then in the 1980s, there was an emphasis on being a ‘yuppie’ and every student wanted to graduate and get a ‘Beemer.’ I think we’re moving back to into that altruistic passion I’ve seen in some past generations. It’s great to see the students get excited about giving back.”

On ASU: “I appreciate that ASU recognizes how important undergraduate teaching is, because that’s what a lot of us are here for.”

Matthias Kawski

Kawski, an expert in differential geometry and control theory, is the founder of Math Circles at ASU's Tempe campus, in which high schoolers can work on challenging math problems with university mathematicians.

On Math Circles: “We’re working with kids who can’t get enough math in school or want to do fun math. I hear from parents all the time that their students need more math. I see it as a teaching laboratory where we have fun.”

Kawski also has done outreach in the Navajo Nation several times to work with student in math camps and to train teachers. “It’s really uplifting to be with those kids,” he said.

Matthias Kawski

Matthias Kawski founded the ASU Tempe chapter of Math Circles, to provide "fun math" for high schoolers who crave more engagement.


On teaching: Kawski estimates he has taught 33 different math courses at ASU.

“I like that because I keep learning new things. Last year I taught a senior-level probability course. One of the students wrote that it’s really nice to have a professor who’s learning alongside us and not everything is obvious to him.

“I have conversations with my classes. I may be doing more of the talking, but they control the pace. Everything is inquiry-based. I deeply believe in lots of motivation, lots of fun and the students asking the questions.”

Kawski likes to have students work on real problems using real data, like census spreadsheets.

He encourages students to take graduate-level classes and is satisfied with less-than-perfect grades. “As long as they can handle it, they’re welcome. Undergraduates still are exuberant and want to do great things. We want them to stretch and try something harder than what they can do.”

On students today: “You can’t be afraid to get to know your students,” said Kawski, who often meets them for coffee or at Hayden Library rather than at formal office hours. He loves keeping up on social media and found that when his calculus class started a Facebook group, it made a great class forum.

On ASU: “We are a research university, not a research institute. I’m very conscientious about keeping the right balance. Some years it’s more teaching and some years it’s more discovery.

“We can draw some top students here when they see that they can go from here to graduate work at Stanford, Cornell or Yale. We have that pipeline established.”

Mary Bates Neubauer

Neubauer, the head of sculpture in the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was a Fulbright Fellow in Cambridge, England, and is an expert in digital design. This summer, she will take three students to Italy as part of the Digital Stone Project, a competitive program in Tuscany.

On the Digital Stone Project: This will be Neubauer’s third trip. Students complete digital sketches of their sculptures, which program robots with diamond tool bits to roughly sculpt the blocks of marble.

Then the students have a month to do the precision work, including sanding and polishing the sculptures, which are then displayed in Italy.

Mary Neubauer in Italy

Mary Bates Neubauer has taken students to Italy twice for the Digital Stone Project, combining work with Italian marble artisans with robotics.

“You have to put the mark of your digital thinking on your work. The digital nature of the artwork has to be embedded in the form so the works are speaking to the form,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful life for a sculptor,” said Neubauer, who will work on her own project while in Italy.

On teaching: “I came from a family of teachers, and I’ve always felt like I’ve had an instinctive ability in teaching.

“I also teach by example and make my students get out there in the world like I do, be open to professional opportunities and for them to get out of the metro area and into the world and travel.

“There are many ways to be an artist, and I am able to help individual students see some of the best ways,” she said. “It goes beyond talent. It goes to drive and a sense of adventure and enterprise. I think the decision to live life as an artist can be very fulfilling. A lot of people worry that you can’t make any money in art, but I haven’t found that to be true.”

On students today: “The way they research is different because of the internet. They’re more mobile — they’re more able and willing to travel than my generation, and they’re networking around the world.

“They are collaborative. They stay together as friends and help each other, and they’re able to maintain those networks through social media.”

On ASU: “I think being in a big research university like this really provides a community not only of kindred spirits in the arts, but also very brilliant people in other fields.

“I would have to say I believe in art training at a big university because of the opportunities to explore so many other fields that can inform one’s practice in art.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Essential reading

Got some summer reading time? Check out these book recommendations.
May 11, 2016

ASU engineering faculty, staff recommend books that entertain, enlighten and inspire

Need inspiration? Encouragement? Guidance on navigating life’s challenges?

Just looking for something fun and escapist to provide a respite from the daily grind?

Or a compelling story to engage your heart and mind?

Here’s our fifth annual “Essential reading” feature in which members of the faculty and staff of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering recommend books to students to fulfill any of those needs.

portrait of ASU professor Emma Frow

“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures,” by Anne Fadiman

“The Circle,” by Dave Eggers

Recommended by Emma Frow, assistant professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society

“The spirit catches you and you fall down” is a phrase used by the Hmong culture to describe epilepsy. Epileptic individuals often take on spiritual and healing roles in Hmong society, in part because they are thought to have privileged access to the sacred realm. In contrast, Western medicine views epilepsy as a neurological condition that needs to be brought under control. Anne Fadiman’s book is a nonfiction account of the clash between a small hospital in California and an immigrant Hmong family over how to best care for their severely epileptic infant daughter. This is a detailed and beautifully crafted text that takes us into the hearts and minds of the Lee family and their doctors, sharing a tragic story of deep cultural miscommunication in a sensitive and balanced way. 
This might seem like an odd book to recommend to engineers, but there are powerful lessons to be drawn from Fadiman’s work. It’s all too easy to think that the users of the technologies we design think just like us and share the same values we do. Fadiman’s book shows us just how wrong that assumption can be at times. She points to the critical importance of deep engagement with the worldviews of those who we claim to be designing for — in medicine as well as across engineering disciplines.

“The Circle” is an easy but provocative summer read. It follows the life of Mae Holland, a recent graduate who can’t believe her luck when she lands a job at the Circle, a successful internet company in Silicon Valley. The company is developing cutting-edge technologies intended to promote information sharing and make societies more transparent. Sounds cool, right? But can you have too much of a good thing? As we follow Mae’s increasingly public life through this gripping novel, Eggers grapples with serious questions about privacy, democracy and the control of information in society.

portrait of ASU professor Ganesh Tirupalavanam

“The Singing Bones,” by Shaun Tan

“Applied Minds: How Engineers Think,” by Guru Madhavan

Recommended by Tirupalavanam Ganesh, assistant dean of Engineering Education and associate research professor, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy

Ever wonder what made the fairy tales of your childhood fascinating? Fairy tales repeatedly illustrate how humans use their profound imagination to make sense of an often improbably challenging world. They offer instances of human ingenuity in creating narratives that resist the world’s difficulties. Shaun Tan takes a unique approach to reinterpret the tales collected and written by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. He created small-scale sculptures using papier-mâché and a fast-drying clay that children are partial to, as they explore making objects from their imaginations. These sculptures are somehow curious, unique and mysterious in how well they seize the core of the fairy tales they represent. Tan photographed his sculptures to create “The Singing Bones.” He is no stranger to adopting new genres of communication dealing with the challenge of “how to represent things that are hard to represent.” I first discovered Tan’s work 10 years ago with his wordless and exceptionally insightful work, “The Arrival.” Since then, I have experienced each of his books. Escape into the magical yet terrifying world of the Brothers Grimm’s tales through Tan’s interpretive lens. It will be an experience that inspires and challenges you.

Written by an engineer, “Applied Minds” is about how engineers “convert feelings into finished products.” How do engineers see structure when there is none and everything is seemingly chaotic? Engineering is obscure to the outside world of non-engineers, and much of what engineers do is often taken for granted. Madhavan uses case studies to demonstrate the ways engineers use prototyping, feedback, reliability, standards, efficiency and optimization in distinct areas such as entertainment, health care and transportation. What does the Seven Years’ War that started in 1756 in Europe and involved almost every great power of the time have to do with how engineers think and practice their profession today? As an engineer in training, you are entering a profession of heroes. Read “Applied Minds” to learn about the practice of engineering and the mind-set that gives you your hero powers. Madhavan refers to engineers as “propellers of economies, designers of our material destinies ... and subliminal brokers who facilitate our experiences with the world.” He helps engineers make the familiar strange, and he inspires us to think critically about our world, and to adopt different ways of seeing things that can turn us into motivated and ingenious problem-solvers.

portrait of ASU professor Sandeep Gupta

“The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization,” by Peter M. Senge

Recommended by Sandeep Gupta, professor and computer engineering graduate program chair, School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering

Quoting basketball superstar Michael Jordan: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” As a college student, your success depends mostly on your hard work and creativity as an individual. In your career, success will increasingly depend on how well you perform on a team and how well your teams perform together. In the future, you will likely be part of many teams working to solve the big problems of our times. Successful teamwork is so important in the quest for visionary technological advancements that Google has spent millions of dollars researching why some teams of highly qualified and creative individuals work wonders, while others fail miserably. The researchers will tell you it’s not an easy nut to crack. Fortunately, you can learn some of the tried and true keys to highly successful teams — or companies — by reading Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline.” The book provides a holistic perspective on what kinds of teams have the best chance to succeed, and, more importantly, how to engineer such a team. The recipe consists of four fundamental disciplines: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning woven together with the fifth discipline: systems thinking. As Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” In “The Fifth Discipline” you will get insight into how creative teams — called “Learning Organizations” in this book — can be created by “connecting” or aligning the five fundamental disciplines.

portrait of ASU professor Jeremy Helm

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey

“A Short History of Nearly Everything,” by Bill Bryson

Recommended by Jeremy Helm, director, Academic Administration & Student Success

“The 7 Habits” is a timeless classic that is just as meaningful now as when it was first published in 1989. This is a great book that contains words of wisdom applicable to students, professors, parents and CEOs alike. As Jim Collins (author of the management book “Good to Great”) writes in the foreword to the 25th-anniversary edition of “The 7 Habits”: “Covey created a standard operating system — the ‘Windows’ — for personal effectiveness, and he made it easy to use.” The principles covered in the book can serve to improve your effectiveness not only as a student, but also in your personal and professional lives.

I was first introduced to Bill Bryson’s writing when an Australian friend gave me a witty book authored by Bryson titled “Down Under: Travels From a Sunburned Country.” The book, a humorous travel guide, resonated with me because I often found myself in humorous situations while travelling in Japan during 14 months I spent there working with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. Bryson takes the same humorous approach with his popular science book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” Taking inspiration from great science writers such as Timothy Ferris and Richard Feynman, Bryson devoted three years to researching the answers to what he calls “a lot of outstandingly dumb questions” such as “How do we know how much the Earth weighs?” and “How do we know what goes on inside an atom?” For a break from your advanced physics studies, I recommend this book for an entertaining yet informative look at the history of science and discovery.

portrait of ASU professor Mark Henderson

“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain

Recommended by Mark Henderson, professor, the Polytechnic School

I believe the majority of engineers (and engineering students) can be classified as introverts, and the reason I think that is because many are more interested and comfortable with things than with other people. You know the infamous joke about how you can identify an extroverted engineer? They look at your shoes rather than theirs. Ha ha. I am an introvert, and introverts are typically maligned in society by people who encourage us to get up and be extroverts, because extroverts like company. We feel compelled to comply because extroverts are beloved by society for their energy and outgoing nature. Susan Cain presents an overview of the introvert personality (she is one, also). She shows how you can predict if babies are introverts or extroverts: If infants hear a loud noise, are the introverts the ones who respond by making noise, or the ones who are quiet? The answer is probably not what you expect. The author goes on to explain the value of being an introvert in this world, tells how to survive and thrive as an introvert, and reveals some of the introverts among famous figures of history. After I finished the book, I was not only OK with being an introvert, I was proud of it.


portrait of ASU professor Sandra Houston

“Scarpetta,” by Patricia Cornwell

“Dreaming of the Bones,” by Deborah Crombie

Recommended by Sandra Houston, professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

To take your mind off the rigors of engineering for a while, I’ve always liked the “whodunit?” stories — they’re just fun. There are two mystery book series I especially like, Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones mysteries (Scotland Yard-type mysteries) and Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series. Crombie’s “Dreaming of the Bones” was the first of these I read. It was great entertainment and brought me back for more. Among Cornwell’s most popular books, I recommend the one simply titled “Scarpetta.” Maybe I like these books because the characters carry over from book to book, so you sort of get to know the players. Or maybe it’s because of the strong female lead characters. If that makes me sound like a feminist, that’s OK, because I am.

portrait of ASU professor Lina Karam

“Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury and Bruce Patton

Recommended by Lina Karam, professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

Throughout your life, whether in school, college, work or home, we have to deal with various people (classmates, teammates, teachers, parents, siblings, clients, managers, friends, spouses) who have different personalities, beliefs and interests. “Getting to Yes” offers an effective method for productively communicating with different kinds of people in various situations, and to negotiate agreements and resolve disputes in ways that are favorable to all parties involved. The method is designed to help strengthen relationships and avoid creating more conflicts and misunderstandings in the future. The authors provide advice that can help you in everything from business ventures and personal friendships to relationships between teachers and students, and between managers and employees. In short, the book offers lessons on how to lead a less stressful and more successful life.

portrait of ASU professor Rick Martorano

“The Man Who Walked Through Time,” by Colin Fletcher

Recommended by Rick Martorano, director, Engineering Technical Services

For those of us obsessed with the Grand Canyon, Colin Fletcher is the man who truly “walked through time” by trekking the length of Grand Canyon National Park in 1963 at age 41. In this classic book of nature writing, every step down a Canyon trail that Fletcher takes brings you thousands of years into the past. His observations about the joys of backpacking and his realization that life can begin again at 41 led me to reinvent myself at age 40. His tales of the lonely places ignited my interest in hiking, and on my 40th birthday I followed his path below the Canyon’s South Rim, down the trails in search of the places Fletcher described. His two-month-long hike — often bushwhacking where no trails existed — brought him to places far from the beaten path, and into some dangerous situations. The journey gave him insights into geology, the human condition and his own life, and he gives readers an inspiring introduction to the Grand Canyon’s beauty. Reading his story can be a life-changing experience. More than 25 years later, at age 67, Fletcher solo hiked and rafted the length of the Colorado River, documenting the trip in another book, “River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea.”

portrait of ASU professor Ann McKenna

“Hug,” by Jez Alborough

Recommended by Ann McKenna, professor and director of the Polytechnic School

For those of you who have young children I recommend this book, which has a total of three words but images that tell a wonderful story. The main character is sadly wandering through the jungle searching for a “hug” as he encounters many pairs of animals that have what he seeks. A friendly elephant helps him, while the others follow along, and after much searching he expresses frustration. Through that expression he ultimately finds what he is looking for, and he is reunited with a hug. The main character expresses thanks to the elephant, and all the animals gather to celebrate, with hugs all around. This is one of my favorites because it makes me smile every time I “read” it. At its core is a story of different individuals (represented in this case by animals) who form a community that helps someone in need. They demonstrate empathy and care, and collectively celebrate with genuine mutual joy in the end. I have been fortunate to become aware of many great children’s books like this one because my mother-in-law was a former elementary school librarian, and books were a frequent gift to my kids. I’m not totally sure, but I think my kids liked this book as much as I did.

portrait of ASU professor Daniel Rivera

“The Templeton Plan: 21 Steps to Personal Success and Real Happiness,” by Sir John M. Templeton, as described to James Ellison

“The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution,” by T.R. Reid

Recommended by Daniel E. Rivera, professor, School for Engineering for Matter, Transport and Energy

The late John Marks Templeton was a highly successful investor and founder of the Templeton mutual funds, a multibillion-dollar company built from an initial $10,000 in borrowed money. His narrated book describes in an engaging and accessible manner some practical, sensible steps to which Templeton attributes his success — in business and in his personal life — starting from his days as a boy in Tennessee to his many years in the business world. The book provides essential material for students and young professionals wishing to make a mark in society. There is multifaceted advice on a wide range of topics (for example, attitude towards work, facing challenges and failure, time management, relating to people). While some advice can be hard to swallow (watching too much television as a barrier to success), overall I have found this book to be thoughtful and extremely valuable.

“The Chip” is a fascinating account of the invention of the integrated circuit, which was independently developed by Jack Kilby (at Texas Instruments) and Robert Noyce (at Fairchild Semiconductor; he would later be one of the co-founders of Intel Corporation). T.R. Reid is a journalist who does a fantastic job at describing the personalities of two very different individuals whose contributions played a major role in the rise of the semiconductor industry. The book is also an engaging account of the history of the semiconductor industry as a whole. This is a worthwhile read for students and recent graduates that provides some interesting perspectives on technical accomplishment, and illustrates that there can be many paths to career success.

And if you don’t find everything you’re looking for on this list, check out book recommendations from past years:

Essential reading 2015

Essential reading 2014

Essential reading 2013

Essential reading 2012

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering