2009-2010

At WPI, Teaching is Inspired by Students

John McNeill, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, talks about his educational philosophy in WPI's 2009 President’s Report

John McNeill, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, talks about his educational philosophy in WPI's 2009 President’s Report

In 15 years as a faculty member in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, John McNeill has won several of WPI’s top faculty awards, including the Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize, which recognizes excellence in teaching, research, and service.

“I never tried to win any of those awards,” McNeill says. “I just like what I do.”

What he especially likes is teaching. He discovered the rewards of working with students by tutoring other undergraduates at Dartmouth. After nearly a decade in industry, he decided to seek a career in education. He earned a PhD at Boston University and soon after joined WPI.

Happily, he found a university where professors are able to balance teaching and research. “The nice thing about WPI is if I have an extra hour in the day, it’s OK for me to spend it thinking of a better way to teach the material.”

McNeill traces his approach to education to his own experience as an undergraduate. “I struggled a bit with my first electronics course,” he says, “So I identify with students who struggle but are still willing to work. They need the right framework to help them make sense of the discipline. Thinking about how to communicate the material clearly—that’s my philosophy of teaching.”

Even in his research on analog and mixed-signal microelectronics, McNeill has found a way to put the needs of students first. His work often involves solving problems for industrial sponsors, work that provides projects for graduate and undergraduate students. “I serve as the ‘nodal point’ between the companies and the students,” he says, “and make sure each gets what’s best for them. What I like is that it works for the students and helps them meet their goals.”

As for his own bottom-line goal as a faculty member, McNeill says it is, quite simply, to help students learn. “And not just about engineering,” he says, “but about how to be a good citizen and a better human being, how to grow, how to discover who they really are, and how they can contribute to society.”

February 1, 2010

 
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