It's good that ice storms can't stop Brian DeJong.
In 2007, he drove to Central Michigan University through such a storm to interview for a job as an assistant professor of engineering. When he arrived, he discovered classes were canceled.
"There was like me and three professors on campus," he said with a laugh. "I loved the campus, but I went away thinking 'they don't want me.'"
But they did, and 11 years later the now-associate professor of engineering will be honored March 2 as the
Michigan Science Teachers Association's 2018 College Science Teacher of the Year.
He was chosen for modeling best teaching practices, inspiring students, demonstrating innovative teaching strategies, being an excellent role model for students and teachers, demonstrating leadership, and exhibiting a passion for science and teaching.
Making an impression
DeJong has made an impression on his colleagues and students alike. They say he sets high standards but is fair, quickly learns his students' names and uses a lot of hands-on examples to make lessons relevant.
Andrew Ruby, a student who nominated him for the award, said he makes learning fun and always puts his students first, whether it's giving extra attention to someone struggling or missing a meeting to stay after class to make sure students understand a concept.
“I love seeing students excited to learn and seeing the lightbulb go on when they realize they have grasped a concept.” – Brian DeJong
Terry Lerch, director of the School of Engineering and Technology and one of several colleagues who endorsed him, noted DeJong's emphasis on hands-on learning, including:
- Creating a Lego robot king of the hill competition.
- Coordinating the designing, building and racing of
cardboard boats across Rose Ponds each year before CMU's homecoming football game.
- Creating an ethics-based role-playing game that emulates the competing pressures of maximizing corporate profit, achieving environmental sustainability and providing a decent living wage for workers.
He also teaches engineering summer camps for K-12 students.
"Brian devotes a great deal of time and effort to his teaching and student interactions, and in turn, his students appreciate his dedication," his colleague wrote.
"Teaching is my passion," DeJong said. "I love seeing students excited to learn and seeing the lightbulb go on when they realize they have grasped a concept. Working with the students is what gets me excited in the morning to come to work."
That passion for teaching has deep roots in the DeJong family. His father was a mechanical engineering professor, his mother was a principal, his two sisters and a brother are teachers, and another brother is an engineer.
"I was brought up thinking like an engineer," he said. "I like math, research and solving problems. I also have always liked teaching and helping people.
"I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
DeJong is the first winner in the School of Engineering and Technology.
More than a job
It wasn't just landing a job that motivated DeJong to drive those icy roads to CMU in 2007. It was about making a positive difference.
"I knew that in coming to Central I could get in on the ground floor and help design the curriculum. I've done a lot of that."
Among his accomplishments are redesigning the freshman engineering course and creating the junior-level mechatronics course. In addition, he coordinates the mechanical engineering program, has published and presented research papers on robotics and engineering education, and he advises mechanical engineering students.