From his first days as a mechanical engineering professor 15 years ago, Professor Nicholas Pohlman, Ph.D. has maintained a consistent teaching philosophy. The practice of problem solving should guide students “along the circuitous path of learning” that draws upon quantitative and qualitative reasoning. Rather than simply repeating a complicated tasks students should work to achieve “internal conceptualization of the topic in the student’s own mind.”
It was his teaching philosophy and so much more that earned him the award of NIU Presidential Teaching Professor for 2022.
“We are extremely proud of the work that Dr. Pohlman has achieved at NIU and his teaching style that has had a tremendous impact on our students over the years,” said CEET Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D. “He is truly deserving of recognition, financial support and release time to enhance his teaching skills even further.”
Pohlman uses the analogy of a lantern to explain his teaching philosophy. “By helping illuminate the path of knowledge for students, I hope to teach them the means for taking not only the short steps to proceed along a particular known path, but also the tools that they may use to effectively point their searchlight in new directions, he said. “It is through innovation and creativity that engineers and scientist may continue to expand the paths on the current map of knowledge.”
His style has proven to be successful, as his students consistently rate his classes very high on their course evaluations. In fact, more than seventy-five percent of the courses he teaches have scored over 4.5 on a 5-point scale, which is higher than the department average.
Pohlman’s former students have shed some light on this history of stellar evaluations. Alumnus Thomas Corbett ’19 was inspired by Pohlman to continue his education and is currently a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Corbett hopes to “follow Dr. Pohlman’s example and become a professor.”
Alumnus Matthew McCoy ’21, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, was also inspired by Pohlman to pursue a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering and is attending the Georgia Institute of Technology.
McCoy and Corbett agreed that Pohlman is deserving of the Presidential Teaching Professorship “due to his continued support of his students, his passion and excellence in teaching, and high expectations of the engineering program. He single handedly raises the bar for what it means to be an engineer, regardless of the institution. These qualities and more make him not just an exemplary educator, but also an incredible mentor that any student would be lucky to interact with,” they said.
In addition to teaching, Pohlman also shines outside the classroom. He is actively engaged in a broad range of research from fundamental granular flows and biomass utilization to engineering solutions for high energy physics experiments. He advising multiple undergraduate and graduate student projects that contributed to last spring’s landmark finding at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. The findings at Fermi Lab included first results from the Muon g-2 experiment that made headlines worldwide.
Mechanical Engineering Department Chair and Professor Tariq Shamim, Ph.D. said that Pohlman “is an excellent teacher and is one of our most dedicated and highly respected teachers. He demonstrates an excellent proficiency to adopt and implement new teaching pedagogy. He has been actively implementing student centered learning and adoption of teaching and learning technology in his classroom.”
Pohlman has earned many awards including Credential in Effective College Instruction, Awarded by the Association of College and University Educators and the American Council on Education in 2021. As a result of helping align the CEET Honors criteria with the University Honors Program, he won the Innovation Certificate of Recognition from NIU’s Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships and University Honors Program Great Professor Award in 2014. The college recognized his teaching efforts early in his career naming him faculty of the Year in 2009 and 2012.
Fellow professor Iman Salehinia, Ph.D. concurred that Pohlman has a bright future in teaching and is deserving of the award because “of his passion in engineering education, extreme care and patience for his students, constant support for his colleagues, the department, and the college, and steady effort for professional development in teaching.”