Learning beyond the textbook

Learning beyond the textbook

Anita Galler,

Our students of “Luftfahrt / Aviation” and “Production technology and organization” are in for a treat: Roy Issa Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering of the School of Engineering & Computer Science at West Texas A&M University is currently their visiting professor. We talked with him about the differences between Austria and the U.S. when it comes to academics and characteristics.

Why did you decide to apply to FH JOANNEUM? What are the most important objectives of your stay?
I decided to apply to FH JOANNEUM because it has both Aviation and Production Technology programs. Few universities have these two programs together. Before joining academia, I worked for 4 years as a research engineer in the aerospace industry on projects associated with NASA’s Shuttle System and the International Space Station, and for 8 years as an analytical engineer in the steel industry. My industrial background is strongly related to those two programs offered at FH JOANNEUM. Secondly, I was interested in visiting Graz because it is a cultural city and a lively student city with six universities in town.

The most important objective of my stay is to develop a strong relation between by home campus and FH JOANNEUM. I would like to bring back what I learned from my host country to my classrooms to share it with them. I am currently working on a program to have engineering students from West Texas A&M University visit FH JOANNEUM in the near future.

What are the main differences between teaching and learning at FH JOANNEUM and at Western A&M University?
Teaching in an environment in which the first language of the students is not English requires careful attention to the level of the language that you use in the classroom. For example, I avoid using acronyms that may confuse them. I also post my lecture presentations ahead of time for students to have basic information about the lecture before coming to class.

What took me by surprise when I started teaching at FH JOANNEUM is that I can offer a three-hour lecture in Thermodynamics and students will not complain. This will be very difficult to do back home, and especially in a difficult subject like Thermodynamics. Our engineering lectures are traditionally limited to a maximum of 75 minutes. Also, I discovered that courses at FH JOANNEUM can be offered in just five to six weeks instead of the traditional 15-week period that I am accustomed to in the United States.

I am currently teaching Case Studies in Thermodynamics in the Production Technology & Organization (PTO) Program, and all my students have full time jobs in industry. It appears to me that these students are under extra pressure to get their degrees finished and to build a professional career at the same time. In the U.S. students can have Co-Op jobs during summer, but have to be full time students during the regular 15-week Spring and Fall semesters.

Which academic habits of A&M would you like to implement here? And which ones of FH JOANNEUM would you like to take back home?
I like to give a lot of projects in my engineering classes at West Texas A&M University. My projects require both engineering analysis and design. I like to have students conduct experimental tests on prototype systems they build. I also enjoy working with them in the labs.

I like the strong connection that exists between FH JOANNEUM and the local companies. Because of that, students at FH JOANNEUM have an in-depth real life experience about engineering, and learn a lot beyond the textbook. Having spent time in both industry and academia, this type of a program (applied sciences) strongly appeals to me. I hope that we in the U.S. can implement these principles in our engineering programs as well.

Which Austrian characteristics seem peculiar to you?
Austrians do walk a lot! In the U.S., we always rely on our personal cars for commuting, and we rarely make long walks. I will be in Austria for about six months on this trip. This is the first time in my life I will not have access to my personal car. Frankly speaking, I do not miss that a bit. I learned to enjoy traveling by trains, commuting by trams, and riding my bike in the outdoors. It is such a relaxing life, and I am enjoying it a lot!

What do you like about Austria and its people?
Austria is truly a very beautiful country. It is very rich in its history, have beautiful castles to visit, and the country side is breath taking. I would love to make Austria on top of my list of countries that I will frequently visit in future. The Austrian people are very kind, gentle and very hospitable to incoming visitors.