Why I Teach

Professors share passion behind their profession

Written by John Bean, Christopher Stipe and Madhu Rao
Photography by SU archives
September 14, 2012

Professors Christopher Stipe (College of Science and Engineering), John C. Bean (College of Arts and Sciences) and Madhu Rao (Albers School of Business and Economics) share these essays speaking to why they teach at SU and what inspires them to continue doing what they love.
By Christopher Stipe
Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

As an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to be a professor at a university where I could focus on teaching. I used to keep a notebook, which I still have, where I would write down notes on my professor’s teaching styles and techniques. I continue to look back through that notebook to refine my own technique. So, for the first phase of my career, my past professors inspired me. From them, I learned to be well prepared, organized and thorough in my explanations.

In my first seven years at Seattle U, my approach to teaching has been very traditional. I spend a majority of class time lecturing and a small portion working example problems with the students. With that said, I hope to make my teaching style in the second phase of my career look nothing like that in the first phase. The problem with a "lecture-based" approach to teaching is that there is a large disconnect between the information being taught and the ability to apply that information to real engineering problems.

Also, there are many students who do not learn well by sitting and listening to a professor lecture for an hour each class period. I’d say about half of our students get into engineering because they like to work with their hands.

Recently, I read a research paper with authors from Boeing and Montana State University that showed evidence that there is virtually no correlation between an engineering employee’s GPA at graduation and their value to the company. This paper made me question two things: One, am I grading my students on the right skills and two, am I teaching my students the correct skills. Early in my career, I was confident that I was doing a good job at both. Upon reflection, I am not so sure. That is why I want to make a fundamental shift to the way I teach.

Over my sabbatical year, I had a number of experiences that changed the way I look at the time I have with students in and out of the classroom. First, I worked on a couple really exciting research projects with two Seattle University students. The first was a Mars Rover project to develop a geochronology instrument to do rock dating on the surface of Mars. The second was to develop an instrument to measure silica in underground mines to improve the air quality for miners. What I realized was that active learning, through research, provides opportunities for the students to learn both fundamental science and engineering principles while also being forced to work on problems that do not have one nicely packaged solution, like most engineering textbook homework problems do.

Secondly, I started to explore alternative methods for teaching, including the inverted classroom, problem-based learning and other active learning methods. Dr. Greg Mason, in the mechanical engineering department, has been experimenting with the inverted-classroom approach where he uploads screen-capture videos to YouTube that the students watch before coming to class. This allows the class time to be used for solving more challenging problems or designing engineering systems. Dr. Vicky Minderhout and Dr. Jennifer Loertscher have done some great work with the POGIL approach to teaching. Exploring these messier, more fluid methods to teaching keeps me excited about the next phase of my teaching career.

Dr. Christopher Stipe’s research focuses on the development of laser spectroscopy and methods to synthesize nano and micro-scale materials. His students recently developed a backpack portable laser measurement system for doing chemical analysis in the field, with plans to test-drive the system in the works.


By John C. Bean
Professor, English
I have been privileged to teach at Seattle University since 1986. The last few years have been especially rewarding thanks to my many great teaching colleagues at SU and to SU’s teaching-learning environment enriched by our approach to assessing student learning.

As a specialist in writing across the curriculum, I frequently consult on other campuses and return home happily aware of Seattle University’s distinctive strengths as a teaching institution. Particularly, we are good at promoting what cognitive psychologists call “deep learning”—the kind of engaged, meaningful learning that involves critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than memorization and recall. Here are some of SUs particular strengths:

•    A faculty comprised of teacher–scholars: We differ from most liberal arts colleges in our commitment to faculty scholarship; we differ from Research I institutions by our outstanding teaching in the small liberal arts tradition
•    An exceptionally effective Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning that hosts research–based workshops for faculty
•    A new Core curriculum with opportunities for sequencing and integrating assignments to teach inquiry, argument and reflection
•    A recently completed Teagle Foundation grant for “writing-in-the-majors” that helped departmental faculty do backward design of the curriculum beginning with gateway courses for new majors and culminating in a senior-year capstone project.
•    Extensive emphasis on writing throughout the Core and the majors with particular attention to developing information literacy and addressing the problems of transfer of learning from one course to the next
•    A nationally recognized Writing Center and strong collaboration between faculty and reference librarians—all enhanced by the new McGoldrick Learning Commons
•    A long tradition of supporting undergraduate research

What is not so evident on this list is the way that professors talk to each other about teaching. Our approach to assessment asks departments to decide what they want students to learn and then to design the curriculum to help our students achieve these goals. With assessments, we can measure how our students are learning.

We are particularly trying to promote undergraduate research by helping students pose and investigate their own disciplinary problems. Since the mid-90s, Seattle University has increasingly required faculty to publish their own research for promotion and tenure. Professors do more research here than most people realize and we are finding payoffs in the teaching side of our mission. Our professors can mentor students in undergraduate research because they are researchers themselves.

The university also values pedagogical research aimed at promoting a more rigorous, engaging and challenging learning environment for students. My colleague Larry Nichols (director, Writing Center) and I have co-authored an article with chemistry colleagues P.J. Alaimo and Joe Langenhan (Science and Engineering) that has been cited in the journal Science. Some of our other articles have been cited as influencing the writing-across-the-curriculum movements in the United Kingdom and Germany.

For me, there has been no separation between my teaching life and my research life. Seattle University has been an ideal place for collaboration with colleagues on teaching and learning.

John C. Bean has published widely about teaching and learning. He is the co-author of three textbooks on composition and argument and the author of the best-selling Jossey-Bass book Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom, now in its second edition. Professor Bean has conducted workshops on teaching writing and critical thinking around the world, most recently to educators in Ghana.

By Madhu Rao
Associate Professor, IT Management
Since 2001, I have been on the faculty at the Albers School of Business and Economics. I teach information technology (IT) management at the undergraduate, graduate and Executive MBA levels. For the past decade, I have led student groups to both China and India as well, trips that have been as developmental and enriching for me as I hope they have been for my students.

In my classes, we aren’t really talking about technology itself but the management of technology. It’s a question of being able to put the subject matter into a context so students feel it is impactful in their lives. For my undergraduate students, I talk about how technology is used in a business context and emerging trends that will impact their careers. For graduate students, we speak of the strategic advantage IT brings to an organization and their role in ensuring that a technology–business fit occurs. I love technology and that shows, I hope, in how I teach. My classes tend to be interactive and case–based.

As part of an approach to critical thinking, I always play devil’s advocate in a discussion forcing students to look at issues from a perspective opposite their own. As I warn my students on the first day of class, I’m an “argumentative Indian.” My teaching is reinforced by my research, which focuses on the intersection of international business and information technology. I look at the way global teams work together on outsourcing tasks in a virtual environment, how they coordinate activities and collaborate across borders.

Recently I received a Pacific Marketing International (PMI) research grant to examine the unique factors affecting outsourcing teams in China and how those impact the manner in which they work with their U.S. counterparts. The goal of this research is to create a framework of best practices for managing projects effectively among U.S. and Chinese IT management teams.

I really enjoy being at Seattle University. Before coming here, I had never taught at a Jesuit university and I now realize how fortunate I am to teach at a business school where students are asked to understand the societal and environmental impact of what they do. Having grown up in India that appeals to me immensely. I’ve taught at a lot of universities but Seattle University and Albers are the first to make me feel proud to be part of a greater mission.

It’s easy to be a better person and a global citizen when everyone around you—students, staff, professors and administration—all believe it’s possible to harmonize people, profit and planet.

Madhu Rao teaches IT management at the Albers School of Business and Economics and is an expert in areas of global IT management. His research has been published in widely used textbooks and in respected academic journals such as the Journal of Management Information Systems, the Journal of Global Information Technology Management, Information Systems Management and Small Group Research.

Christopher Stipe
John C. Bean
Madhu Rao