Professor Doesn’t Shy Away from Adventure

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Anyone who thinks that college professors are all mild-mannered people who spend most of their time with their noses buried in a book or squirreled away in a lab hasn’t met Wayne Whiteman.     

“I’ve always been fascinated by flying, and free flying — without an engine — is about as cool as it gets,” said Whiteman, who is director of the Office of Student Services and a senior academic professional in the School of Mechanical Engineering.

For four years, Whiteman has flown hang gliders as a hobby.

“My wife and I rent a cabin year-round at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park, near Chattanooga, Tenn., and I usually fly about three weekends a month,” Whiteman said. “The nice thing about hang gliding is that you are living in the moment. You don’t worry about the past or the future. You are totally alive and living in the now.”

Recently, The Whistle sat down with Whiteman to learn more about him and his time at Tech. Here’s what we learned:

How did you get to Tech?
I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1979 and started teaching mechanical engineering at the institution, working my way up to program chair. By 2003, it was time for something new. Since I’d completed my PhD studies at Georgia Tech and had kept in touch with folks here, it just made sense to come to Tech.

Tell us about your research.     
Mechanical engineering is about finding creative solutions to difficult problems. For example, we design and develop machines ranging from toasters to cars. These days, I’m not as heavily involved in research as I once was, due to my administrative role in the Office of Student Services. My focus is more on scholarship and research in the areas of engineering education, and teaching and learning initiatives.

What are a few professional accomplishments that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of my 24 years of Army military service and of being commander of a 660-person U.S. Army engineer battalion.

What do you do to make learning more engaging for students?
I use a lot of group work in class to encourage students to work together. Also, I’m not a big fan of clickers. Instead, I will hand out pieces of green and pink paper and have students raise one or the other in response to a question. And I’ve learned that the sure-fire way to not get students to ask questions is to say, “Does anyone have any questions?” Instead, after we discuss a topic, I will have students get into groups and formulate questions related to what was just discussed. This approach seems to elicit some of the best questions. Lastly, I try to make class fun. So, we will have “commercial breaks” throughout class where we chat about good movies or upcoming concerts to lighten the mood.

What piece of technology could you not live without as an instructor?
I would rather say the piece of technology I COULD live without — PowerPoint. A lot of PowerPoint presentations can be as painful for students as watching a bad B movie. I’m still a fan of the good old whiteboard.

What are three things everyone should do while working at Tech?
Get involved in a student club or activity and interact with students. Go to a sporting event. And try biking around campus.

Where is the best place to grab lunch (on or off campus), and what do you order?
I fancy the Student Center Food Court and generally eat a turkey and cheese sandwich or something from the hot food line.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.
I bike eight miles to and from work daily.

If you weren’t in your current line of work, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.



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