Jeanne Christman excites student learning with engaging teaching style

College of Engineering Technology professor honored with 2020 Eisenhart Award for Excellence in Teaching

A. Sue Weisler

Jeanne Christman, left, an associate professor in the electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology program, was recently honored with the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. She and undergraduate students Crystal McFarlane (center) and Monique DeJesus work out class problems together.

Jeanne Christman thinks classrooms should be noisy. The more conversations between students and faculty, the more success she believes students will have in understanding and applying engineering and computing concepts.

“I don’t think classrooms should all be quiet. Students today work well together. Engineers in industry work together, so students should too,” she said.

That collaborative, connected approach to helping students understand and use today’s engineering concepts was one of the reasons Christman was honored with the 2019-20 Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. The associate professor in the electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology department (ECTET) is being recognized for the different learning styles she uses to connect with her students and for having fun with some of the most complex technical topics.

“This award, it’s the biggest honor I’ve had in my career and I am humbled by the recognition. I cannot expect students to be excited to learn if I am not excited to teach. When I went through engineering school in the ’80s, it was sink or swim. Either you are cut out to be an engineer or you’re not. There was that whole weeding out process, of proving yourself,” she said. “It is different now; we have more diversity of students—cultural, racial, gender, socio-economic, and they don't all learn the same. Teaching today to promote success in students is to employ a variety of methods.” 

Those methods have made a positive impression.

“What makes her an excellent teacher? She gives me hope,” said Monique De Jesus, a third-year student from Syracuse, N.Y. “She understands it’s hard working in a predominantly male field. She makes your learning experience exciting. She is genuinely tenacious about her teaching methods. She’ll give her time and she’s patient. Last, her style. She dresses the part as a woman who is in control of her confidence, education, power, and strength.”

Crystal McFarlane, a second-year student from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., agreed. “I would say Professor Christman is a good professor because she is very accessible outside of class. Even when she is not my professor for some of the courses I have taken, she still provides me with the assistance and patience as if I were one of her current students. She is also very approachable. I feel at ease when talking to her and feel like I can communicate with her on a level a bit deeper than my other professors.”

The demands of engineering and attaining engineering degrees has not changed, but the way it can be taught to still meet those demands has—and Christman is making that change. She is leading an NSF-funded project to further develop faculty engagement, particularly in improving engineering technology education and enhancing coursework to make it more inclusive. Engineering and engineering technology classrooms are undergoing a culture change, said Christman, whose work is in bias in STEM education and its contribution to the under-representation of women in engineering.

“To reach students they have to know you care about them and that you care about the material, because why should they care if you don't?” said Christman. “You have to figure out how to present the material for the strengths of different students. Some learn by seeing, some by hearing and reading and others by practicing problems. Others learn just by talking their way through the material. It’s a balance of encouraging them, motivating them, giving them positive feedback while pushing them to try a little harder.”

One day can be computer engineering technology exercises, another it’s having the class act out how computer systems operate. It’s not every day that engineering technology students become digital circuits. While it is a lighthearted activity, it allows for a different learning process. And the laughs lighten the atmosphere. But they are also part of the culture of caring the department and the college have cultivated, and that Christman practices.

Honors accumulate for CET

Jeanne Christman is the fourth consecutive faculty member in the electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology department to win the Eisenhart Award. It began with Richard Cliver in 2017, followed by Steven Ciccarelli in 2018 and George Zion in 2019. All four were honored for teaching excellence and each expressed that a caring culture was the foundation of student success. Read more about this accomplishment.

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