2013 Faculty Awards: Q&A with Keith Beck

April 28, 2013
By Bill Krueger

The Alumni Association is honoring 21 NC State professors with the 2013 Faculty Awards for their outstanding work in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. We talked (via email) with some of the recipients about their work and the keys to being a successful professor.

Today we’re visiting with Keith Beck, a professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science in the College of Textiles. Beck is one of six professors being recognized as Alumni Association Distinguished Undergraduate Professors.

beck_olney_picturetexkbeck19What prompted you to become a professor? In my early days as a graduate student in the Purdue University chemistry department, my assistantship required that I teach organic chemistry labs. Through those opportunities to learn and practice the art of teaching, it became apparent that I really enjoyed, not only the generation of knowledge, but also sharing it with others, especially in the hands-on laboratory part of chemistry. When my research adviser would need to be out of town on business, he gave me the opportunity to lecture about organic chemistry to 260 undergraduate chemistry and chemical engineering students. Those days of large blackboards and chalk have morphed into our technologically advanced classrooms and all the resources of the internet, but after 43 years in the classroom and laboratory, my joy of sharing knowledge with students is still strong.

What are the keys to being a successful teacher/professor? My teaching philosophy has always been centered on expectations. If you expect only a little from students, it is highly likely that they will achieve at that level. At the beginning of each course, I explain my expectations to the students, including a lengthy interactive discourse on the importance of academic integrity. Secondly, timing is very important. In the real world, expectations are that people will be prompt for meetings and with project responsibilities. One of my goals is to always start and finish classes and labs on time, so that the students can attend to their other responsibilities. I also return homework, lab reports and exams in the next class meeting so that students can receive rapid feedback on their performance. Finally, it is important that, through your actions, students sense that you care about their education and future. Because my classes are typically small (15-40 students), I learn the student’s names during the first week, so that I can call on them by name. Students will be more motivated to work hard if their instructors demonstrate concern for their future and a willingness to get to know them.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? My greatest satisfaction is generated in observing the “aha” response that students exhibit when they finally understand something or they do well on an exam or a chemistry experiment gives them results that they can understand and explain. Having a small part in the process that generates that response is very rewarding. I still enjoy that experience in the lab when experiments produce new information about textile materials with which I am working. Also extremely satisfying is the interaction with former students who are doing well and relate some of that success back to their educational experience at NC State.


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