SEAS Professor Feldman wins Trachtenberg award

School of Engineering and Applied Science professor Michael Feldman said he reels his students in with stories and quotations. Taking the advice of his wife, a writer, to “hook ’em with a quote,” Feldman applies the philosophy to get students interested in classroom discussion.

“So many of these stories are funny, and people tend to remember funny things more than things that aren’t funny,” Feldman said. “(Students) remember what the story was about, and maybe there’s some mental hook that links it to a technical issue.”

Feldman and his teaching style will be honored Friday, when he receives the 2003 Trachtenberg Teaching Award at the Celebration of Teaching Excellence Day. The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. in the Media and Public Affairs building room B07.

Winners of the $1,000 award are nominated by undergraduates and must be full-time, tenured professors.

Feldman received his B.S.E. degree in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University in 1966 and received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 and 1973. He joined the GW faculty in 1975.

While growing up in Philadelphia, Feldman said he was “drawn into tinkering” by his cousin, an electrical engineer, whose basement was “filled with electronic gadgets.”

But he said going to college made him realize that “university education is not about tinkering.” He compared a carpenter to a technician and an architect to a university-educated professional.

“A carpenter (is) building a house to plans that were drawn up by an architect, and both people are important,” said Feldman, who also plays piano for a neighborhood comedy show. “You don’t get a house without the carpenters and the architect.”

He said a university-educated professional in his field is important because of the positive contributions technology makes to society.

“If you’re on an icy road and press down firmly on the brake pedal, the computer under the hood (makes the brake work),” Feldman said.

Feldman said that although some people who aren’t familiar with computer science perceive the subject as difficult, SEAS has a “fairly high success rate.”

“My mantra (is) that every (computer) program was written by somebody’s former student,” Feldman said.

This semester Feldman is teaching the first two undergraduate computer science courses and a senior and graduate elective course.

Feldman said he tries to get each one of his students involved in class discussion, even in lecture classes of 50-100 students. He said his role inside the classroom is to present material and to try to get a “lively discussion” going, while outside the classroom he holds several regular office hours.

“The greatest frustration is to see students with their eyelids figuratively propped up by toothpicks,” Feldman said.

Though University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg doesn’t choose the award recipients, he created the award in memory of his parents, Oscar and Shoshana, in 1991.

“(Feldman’s students) have been turned on to the discipline in a way they never anticipated,” Trachtenberg said.

Trachtenberg also said he’d like to increase the $1,000 award someday.

“One of these days, when I get my hands on some money, when the stock market goes up, I’ll put up more money for the scholarship, maybe increasing to as much as $5,000.”

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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