University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Rinderle Chosen as COE Outstanding Teacher

Associate Professor James Rinderle of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has been chosen as the 2011-2012 College of Engineering Outstanding Teacher. Professor Rinderle, who earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has served as the MIE department’s Undergraduate Program Director since 2001, its Department Honors Coordinator since 2001, the Associate Department Head for the last four years, and a member of the Commonwealth College Curriculum Committee for five years.

Among the many courses Professor Rinderle has taught, one is generally considered the most difficult in the undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum. This course, MIE 413, focuses on the design of mechanical systems. In this senior-level course, students have to bring all of their knowledge to bear on systems that they design. Dr. Rinderle’s approach to teaching this wide-ranging course is perhaps best defined in his own words: “While engagement can be improved by a variety of classroom techniques, the greatest engagement comes from genuine interest on the part of the students. Knowing and adapting to these interests is challenging because student interests vary; 50 students might be interested in 50 different things.”

That ability to adapt to myriad students has been proven out by their written evaluations of his teaching. As one of his students noted, “He is particularly adept at explaining complex concepts in a comprehensible manner.”

Another wrote that “He gently guides you to the answer by asking more questions, posing hypothetical situations, and, when all else fails, giving you something to think about and telling you to come back later after you’ve taken time to consider it.”

And his evaluations get even better. “Professor Rinderle has a really amazing set of aesthetics when it comes to describing complicated things with diagrams and charts,” explained one of his students. “Every homework assignment was literally a work of art.”

But Professor Rinderle’s teaching also transcends a basic understanding of engineering concepts. As he has written, “Beyond knowledge, concepts, and methods, however, we teach how to think and reason. This is, perhaps, the most important and most underemphasized component of engineering education….”

How well does this method translate to his coursework? Student comments speak for themselves. “Professor Rinderle has brilliantly structured his course in such a way that forces students to begin thinking like real engineers.”

Another student remembered that “He was a great teacher in every way, he was fair and consistent, he cared about each and every student in his charge, he was happy to go above and beyond the duties of his job description to help his students, and he never backed down from challenging his students to achieve at levels that even they might have felt incapable of.”

One proof of Dr. Rinderle’s caring attitude toward his students is how many students seek him out after they graduate. One example among many was this comment from an alum: “I have kept in touch with Professor Rinderle since I graduated four years ago. Though hundreds of students have passed through his classes since my departure, he always replies to my messages and asks how everything is going both professionally and personally.”

Professor Rinderle backs up his classroom performance with well-researched knowledge. As one of his colleagues noted, “Jim’s subject mastery and scholarship is legend in the department. He has been described as a Renaissance scholar.”

Perhaps his all-around excellence as a teacher was best summed up by another of his colleagues: “Jim thoroughly engages his students and does so through the use of artifacts and multiple real-world examples. His impact on students extends way beyond the classroom, extending far into students’ lives after they leave the college…His dedication to getting across the material clearly and rigorously is without equal.” (March 2012)