Mandar Dewoolkar's teaching is not dramatic — drama is hard to come by when elucidating the complex engineering analysis of earth materials — it's just effective. "It is hard to motivate students while teaching difficult material. It is hard to be creative," he says. The subject at hand is a technical discussion of a method of limiting equilibrium of slope stability, hardly cocktail party fodder, but the give and take is lively.
Reflection and service are crucial parts of Dewoolkar's teaching. He values rigor and theory, but he also wants his students — even undergraduates — to apply their knowledge to practical problems. He sees doing as a path to knowing. Or, as a Chinese proverb Dewoolkar quotes in a recent paper puts it, "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."
Dewoolkar's geotechnical design students work on semester-long service-learning projects in groups of four or five students, using historic structures in Vermont to analyze various engineering problems. They collaborate with community partners from site visits to final presentations, which range beyond engineering to take in historic preservation, societal needs and economic factors.
Dewoolkar says that last year many students volunteered during formal course evaluations that they liked the service-learning aspects of the course best, and that community partners have adopted some of the low-cost recommendations made by the students.