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Mark Psiaki

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Mark PsiakiMark Psiaki tries hard to relate to students as future colleagues. "I let them know that I was once in their seat, just a student who was mystified by a lot of things," he says. "I repeatedly tell them that they may be in my place in a few years." 

To keep students from getting discouraged, Psiaki emphasizes that concepts in systems dynamics or the theory of linear systems aren't always easy to grasp. "I acknowledge when certain assumptions or techniques are very counter-intuitive so that students won't be ashamed of having a hard time with certain of the material," he said. "I encourage them to ask questions if they think I did something wrong, and I explain that I do make mistakes." 

Psiaki walks students through analyses and derivations on the blackboard. "I use a lot of concrete examples to show how to apply the material and why it is important.  I also use analogies, whenever possible, especially humorous ones if they are appropriate, in order to help solidify their understanding of difficult concepts," he says. "I like to get students interested in new material. I like to see the "light" go on, both for understanding of the material and for recognition of why it is important and useful."  

For assignments that involve Matlab, Psiaki doesn't ask his students to simply solve the problem with computer programming. "Instead, I use my own Matlab solution program to construct a solution template that already has much of the drudge work completed, but with a number of key lines or expressions replaced by question marks," he says. "They finish the solution by completing the template, thereby learning the course material well without having to structure and construct all of the ancillary code from scratch." 

One of the most important things for new faculty to remember is to care about their students, says Psiaki. "Try to grab on to a high-value, high-enrollment course that you can teach for a number of years running.  Put in the up-front effort to make it run well, then teach it a number of additional semesters in order to get some return in terms of reduced teaching effort in the later years," he says.