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Inspiring Teacher: Chad Ulven, associate chair and professor of mechanical engineering

His students describe Chad Ulven as an inspiring and challenging teacher who mixes hands-on learning with thoughtful classroom discussions. In addition to his instruction excellence, he is a highly respected researcher in the development of bio-based composites.

He teaches materials-related courses and coordinates the senior design capstone course. For the first time, he is also teaching a course titled “Entrepreneurship for Engineers and Scientists.”

Ulven, who joined the NDSU faculty in 2005, has earned the college’s Faculty Researcher of the Year Award and thePi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honor Society’s Carnot Award for Excellence in Teaching.

WHAT EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU PROVIDE YOUR STUDENTS?

I have the students conduct and observe different materials processing, as well as physical behavior testing. I have them break into groups from time to time to do simple ideation exercises related to the topic and I try to provide industry tours when appropriate to the subject matter.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR PROFESSION?

I love doing research and working with students in the lab. It’s funny though. I thought teaching was something I would just have to do as part of the job, but I learned quickly how much I actually do enjoy it and figuring out how to be good at it as well.

WHAT DO LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING?

I like challenging students to think differently about materials we use in engineering. I like them to figure out why the materials behave the way they do, and how to treat them differently to get the performance needed for an engineering application.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR TEACHING STYLE?

I try to mix in practical applications as well as develop a forum for discussion rather than me dictating what the students are to know. I also try to preface each new topic with a discussion of why the students should listen and care about the topic rather than just presenting it and letting them figure that out. I’ve found that if you explain the value proposition for each new topic, students stay more engaged. I also incorporate breakout problems and small discussion opportunities frequently to get better discussion going.

HOW HAVE YOU GROWN AS A TEACHER?

I am always growing. If I am not constantly learning how to be better a instructor, why should I expect any different from students learning in my classroom?

Ulven earned his bachelor’s degree at NDSU and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


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