Baker Report: Thankful for teaching that transforms

Brianno Coller
Brianno Coller

Baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, whose illustrious career included four seasons with the Chicago Cubs, left a legacy of athleticism and personality often summed up by his famous declaration that “it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”

Please allow me to brag.

For the second consecutive year, NIU is the home of the Illinois Professor of the Year.

Brianno Coller, a Presidential Teaching Professor in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, is our state’s 2015 honoree of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

To quantify the prestige of last week’s announcement, which came only one year after we celebrated Dan Gebo’s receipt of the 2014 title, consider that Brianno was singled out among the thousands of professors in our state. What’s more, the national group of honorees includes only 35 – not 50 – professors.

NIU is thrilled and proud, of course, but we are not surprised.

Our mission and vision statement values “access for a broad spectrum of students to high-quality undergraduate, graduate and professional programs that prepare them to be lifelong learners and productive, socially conscious citizens” and “engaged teaching and learning that evolves from the synergy of research, artistry and service.”

And what Brianno does, just as Dan and all of their colleagues throughout our seven colleges do, is to provide these kinds of dynamic learning experiences that ignite Student Career Success.

Stories of Brianno’s teaching reveal his passionate and tireless ambition to improve his instruction to boost the academic mastery of students.

Brianno CollerRather than just supplying the correct answers to questions, he’s more likely to point students in the right direction. Rather than drowning students in formulas and equations, he’s more likely to join them in applying those engineering principles by fashioning and flying drones on campus.

When he discovered years ago that his lectures weren’t reaching every student, he explored literature on how people learn and found inspiration to design educational video games. Want to win? You’d better know your physics.

Brianno’s games, both fun and educational, empower students to “construct” their own knowledge by connecting new material with what they already knew. This is the type of engaged teaching that leads to a higher order of learner that allows students to diagnose and solve real problems.

Considering our commitment to building the future, I’m excited by Brianno’s innovative spirit in and out of the classroom – and I’m thankful that he and his colleagues understand the value of teaching that helps transform students. It’s more than lectures, readings and tests. It’s about sparking imaginations, nurturing curiosities, prompting experimentation and mining valuable lessons from failure.

As president, I am grateful for the opportunities and preparation we provide to students who plan to change the world.

I hope the coming days of Thanksgiving gatherings with your family and friends bring you joy.

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