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Peter Diamessis aims to teach from first principles and then makes connections with actual engineering applications. "I tend to use a simple example to introduce some theoretical concepts instead of relying on the theory itself," he says. "If anything, I strongly encourage an active discussion in class and find myself quite efficient in this regard."
The ASCE Excellence in Civil Engineering Education workshop, which Diamessis took in the middle of his first year at Cornell, helped him tremendously. "I am now able to better identify the objectives and structure of an individual lecture or a sequence of such lectures," he says. "I proceed at a slower place and have greatly fine-tuned my presentation and choice of possible discussion points."
Diamessis advises new faculty to take their teaching preparation seriously and approach it with a clear mind but never panic. "Remember, that students have a range of learning styles and are typically a lot less experienced than you. Some may struggle more than you did back in the day. Respect that," he says. "In the classroom, do your best to be a performer, as your enthusiasm for a certain topic may totally turn around their attitude towards it."
In nearly every case, Diamessis will give students the benefit of the doubt. "I know that I should respect them to the maximum, provided they respect my authority and boundaries," he says. "A large fraction of the students can be highly stressed and overwhelmed and I strive to show maximum compassion to the pressures they are often subject to."
Diamessis strives to be a beacon of humanity for students in what can be an extremely demanding and competitive environment. His tools? "Background music as the students enter the class, unexpected injections of random humor and pop references, admitting my own weakness (currently but also back in my undergrad days), a highly theatrical presence, and opening up the classroom on occasion to discussion with the students about their greater concerns here at Cornell."
Diamessis' knowledge sometimes surprises students—and it's not just his understanding of engineering computation and advanced numerical methods. "A student once asked me to name the eight founding members of the hip-hop group, Wu Tang Clan, and I named every single one of them," he says. "He left happily astonished."