Raphael Kampmann, a civil engineering teaching faculty member in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, knows his class has a reputation among students for being rigorous and thorough.
So maybe, he wondered, the fact that he is the recipient of Florida State University’s 2021 Distinguished Teacher Award is a sign of encouragement from his students, a way to tell him to keep it up?
“Is it possible that it is their subtle request for more or additional assignments?” he joked. “Just kidding. In all seriousness, I am very happy that I have been recognized for the effort and dedication that I put into my work with students. It is fantastic to see students reach a learning goal through their own path, and I believe that those moments are equally inspiring to the students and to the instructor.”
Kampmann became a full-time faculty member in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2015. He has received several awards for his teaching, including FSU’s Undergraduate Teaching Award, the National Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Distinguished Engineering Educator Award from The Engineers’ Council. He received the Distinguished Teacher Award during the university’s annual Faculty Awards ceremony, which was held virtually April 22.
One important ingredient for good teaching — it should be fun, Kampmann said. An educator’s enthusiasm and a love of the subject naturally sets high standards for students and professors alike.
“A student can only care as much about a particular topic or class as their instructor does,” Kampmann said. “If the professor were not to be excited about the course content, being in class, preparing material or trying out new methods, then why would the students be? Professors have to be 200% excited and engaged so that students get a chance to be 100% excited.”
A big part of that fun comes from connecting engineering theory to real-life applications. For Kampmann, that means time spent with his own research to learn more about how theory and practical application enrich each other.
For his students, that means lots of time spent in laboratories to experience firsthand how their classroom lessons apply to the methods for designing and testing real materials and structures. Outside of an engineering classroom, structural failure is a frightening thing. But inside a classroom, getting to break things is exciting and part of the effort to learn more about how they work safely.
Discovering how and why materials fail is central to materials engineering. Material and structural failure is also an apt metaphor for a good lesson about learning.
“I always encourage students to seek a career in materials engineering — it’s all about failure, so learning is endless,” Kampmann said. “Joking aside, I seriously believe that the biggest mistake that one can make is to remain afraid of making a mistake. And I hope that this mentality is reflected in my teachings because I want students to learn and try out new methods so that they can discover their own abilities and strengths. We have to empower students by giving them numerous opportunities to build their skills in a safe but serious environment in which they can be truly challenged but with minimal
impact on their overall course performance.”
Along with teaching the technical skills that engineers need to succeed, Kampmann strives to instill professionalism and critical thinking in his students, something former pupils have specifically mentioned they appreciate when they begin their careers.
When students start out in the major, they often don’t know what they’re capable of, he said.
“By giving them meaningful, tangible challenges, they grow in what they can do,” Kampmann said. “Fast forward a few years in their education, and all of a sudden, they’re working on really intricate problems to conquer research and engineering challenges. It’s a joy to see.”
Kampmann said students who really want to learn or truly want to understand a subject make him smile.
“Curiosity makes me smile — always,” he said. “Initial abilities are irrelevant. Interest matters. Somebody with true interest and curiosity will always find a solution.”
Read the full list of winners in the original story, “Kampmann Honored as Distinguished Teacher During Annual Faculty Awards,” at FSU News.