Prof’s Tactic: Do Things Most Wouldn’t Do
A quote on a piece of paper — this is what John Cressler ends every class with.
“I like to do activities with my students that other professors might shy away from,” said Cressler, Ken Byers Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “For example, during the last two to three minutes of each class, I will put a piece of paper with a quote on it, quote side down, on everyone’s desk.”
Before the students turn the paper over, Cressler shares a story from his own life related to subjects such as success, love, or work/life balance. And then everyone reads the quote, which will be relevant to his story.
“By letting them know who I am, my students are comfortable letting me know who they are — which leads to them feeling more connected to the course,” said Cressler, who received the 2013 Georgia Tech Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award.
And providing the quotes written on paper so that the students can keep them is key to the success of the activity.
“The students really like to hold onto the quotes to share with friends and family or to keep for inspiration,” he added.
Read on to learn more about Cressler and his time at Tech.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
Actually, no. I earned my bachelor’s in physics here at Tech, and while working in the co-op program, I was able to work at IBM. From that point on, I thought I would be a research scientist at a company. And I was — until a friend suggested that I teach calculus as an adjunct at a college. I thought I would hate it. But the moment I stepped in front of the class, I had this overwhelming feeling that this is what I wanted to do.
How did you arrive at Tech?
I started teaching full-time at Auburn University in 1992. Several years later, I bumped into one of my old Tech professors who suggested that I take a position here. I’ve been here since 2002.
Describe your research.
In my lab, we are trying to create new types of transistors to help electronics run more quickly and efficiently. For example, one project we might take on is figuring out how to make more efficient parts for a cellphone to help the battery last longer.
What is an average day like for you?
Once I get to the office, I spend my mornings completing office tasks. I usually take an hour before I teach (two afternoons each week) to unglue myself from other distractions. My afternoons are often spent meeting with my graduate students.
Would you ever teach a massive open online course?
I might. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that these courses provide education to people who might not have access to it otherwise. But I also feel like these courses sacrifice the intimacy that comes with teaching a face-to-face class of 30 students.
Tell us something unique about yourself.
I just published my first novel, Emeralds of the Alhambra, a love story set in medieval Muslim Spain. (I’d like to invite the campus community to my book signing event on
June 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble @ Georgia Tech.) I’ve written several nonfiction books for both scientific and general audiences. But this book was so creatively satisfying to write, which is great because it’s the first in a trilogy. I’m already 450 pages into the second!