What makes a good professor great? Is it captivating lectures or unending office hours? Is it getting to know each student on a personal level? Perhaps it's the combination of something so simple as the desire to work with students and understanding the influence that can have.
About a decade ago, Dr. Marv Adams says he evaluated his career by asking himself where could he make his best contributions. He determined that some of his best contributions can be made in the classroom and mentoring graduate students.
"I like working with students," said Dr. Marv Adams.
And the students love working with him, as evident in their nominations of Adams for the "Distinguished Achievement Teaching Award" given annually by the Association of Former Students. Adams says this award stands out from other teaching accolades he has received because students initiated it.
Adams is a perennial favorite among nuclear engineering students. His teaching evaluations consistently rank near the top not only for the department, but the college of engineering.
"Dr. Adams' true passion is teaching and this passion leads to a remarkable educational experience for his students," said Hayes Stripling, graduate student.
His classroom experience is well orchestrated and prepared with the student in mind with "fill in the blank" lecture notes and video lectures for the occasional absence. The notes encourage the students to not only participate in the lecture, but also eliminate the need to feverishly write during class, thus allowing them to listen to the material presented.
"My hope is for the students to feel like they have a book they've written themselves," said Adams.
This method comes with high praise from his students.
"In a word, his lecture notes are awesome!" said undergraduate student Aaron Roney. "You are well-prepared for tests and you realize exactly what you have learned."
Perhaps his greatest asset in the classroom and in mentoring graduate students is his gift of explanation -- a gift shared as he explained "basic transport theory" to the department's communications specialist. While the application is lost on her, the explanation resonated and she understood the idea.
Simply put, Adams has the ability to take extremely complicated aspects of nuclear engineering and distill the subject to very simple and intuitive concepts. His explanations typically involve the presentation of the "big picture," followed by common instances or stories that are relatable to the student as he zeros in on the point or theory he is trying to present.
Or as Adam Hetzler said, "As an engineer, computational methods are like Greek for us, and Dr. Adams is like Socrates."
While his ability to teach in the classroom is admired by his students, his desire to help them succeed outside the classroom makes him stand out among professors. It's more than having an "open door" policy and being accessible to students. It's his ability to be "in tune" with his students, even enlisting the aid of fellow students to help when needed. Josh Jarrell described an instance where Adams felt a student was falling behind in class.
"He proposed that I do a little one on one tutoring to help this student out," said Josh. "This turned out to be the perfect solution, not only did the student pass the class, but had a much better foundation for moving on in his nuclear engineering career."
Students remark about how even though Adams is frequently called away by outside-the-university commitments (he serves as a consultant to several national labs in addition to participating in outside research committees), he is completely focused on his students when they need him.
"He is always completely in tune to my work and research," said Stripling. "His remarkable ability to pick up where we ended our previous meeting speaks volumes to his passionate commitment to my educational experience."
Adams feels honored to be involved in the educational journey of so many students. The university setting gives the opportunity to make a positive contribution with a large number of students in the classroom and a more direct impact working more closely with graduate students.
He is viewed as more than a professor and mentor to his students; Adams is their friend. They respect his opinion; ask for his advice, and in return, the students get his encouragement, wealth of knowledge and never-ending support.
"I love the 'tradition of discovery' that takes place at the university level with students," Adams said. "I cannot imagine leaving the university, classroom, or the students, even if I was called to a position in Washington."