Professor Uses Humor to Engage Students

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A little humor goes a long way — especially when you are trying to compete with iPhones and laptops for the attention of a class of 20-somethings.       

“Since I like to tell jokes, I use humor to help engage students,” said Pete Ludovice, an associate professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and part-time comedian. “A bit of humor can even help with the most technical projects. For example, I have developed differential equation models for a population of Tech students at a party and models to predict movie box office receipts.”

Ludovice has also found that sharing a laugh with students can provide real insight into what they are thinking.

“I think the students in my Think Big living-learning community for humor and innovation are much more honest about their thoughts when they are laughing,” he added.

Recently, The Whistle sat down with Ludovice to find out more.  

How did you get into your area of research?
I developed a taste for computer programming as an undergraduate and then took a polymer science course and found computational polymer science interesting as a graduate research topic. As a teaching assistant in the polymer science lab course, we had a small explosion, so perhaps computational work was the best choice for me. In a nutshell, my research simulates how big polymer molecules dance around in the computer. Based on this behavior, I try to figure out how to make the molecules perform better.

And how did you get to Tech?     
I was working in industry, developing computer programs to simulate polymer molecules, and I realized most researchers in industry care about how polymers behave, not why they behave that way. That’s when I made the shift to academia.

What is the greatest challenge you face associated with teaching?
The unusual nature of millennial generation students. According to the books on this demographic, these students actually have respect for authority and want to make the world a better place. However, they expect authority figures like college instructors to be rather serious and they are often surprised if you tell a joke to lighten the mood. But, I just go ahead and tell my jokes.

What piece of technology could you not live without as an instructor?
I could not live without a computer in front of the classroom. It is always more compelling to do the calculation or a simulation in the classroom to illustrate a concept.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Lew Lefton in the School of Mathematics and I are developing a protocol for using humorous improvisation to catalyze technical innovation. While improv has been used for decades to generate ideas in business and the arts, it has not been used previously to generate technical ideas. Some of our recent examples include sophomoric bathroom humor that led to a unique chemical reactor design and underwear jokes that produced a new way to cook barbeque.

What are a few things that everyone should do while working at Tech?
Interact with our students outside the classroom. Billiee Pendleton Parker, from the President’s Scholarship Program, explained the importance of this to me years ago. You get a chance to see them motivated for a cause unhindered by worrying about a grade. Also, see something at the Ferst Center. It does a great job of bringing some very talented musical, humor and variety acts to the heart of our campus.

Where is the best place to grab lunch, and what do you order?
Tin Drum in Tech Square — I like the Sing Chow Men and the Japanese Katsu.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.
Until seventh grade, I was terribly shy.



  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Created: 07/11/2011
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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