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Beyond Heavy Metal

When you hear think of an agricultural engineer, you probably think of heavy metal. You think of someone like Dick Straub, who teaches courses titled “Tractors,” “Tractor and Power Equipment,” and “Spark Ignition and Diesel Engines,” and co-authored a nationally used text, “Farm Machinery Fundamentals.”

So you might be surprised to know that Straub has helped lead the effort to expand his department”s teaching focus beyond traditional areas a change which was reflected in the department”s new name: Biological Systems Engineering.

“The name change reflected a transformation that already was well in progress,” Straub said. “Agricultural engineering today is not just tractors and other field machinery. It has a broader scope, attracting students with interests in natural resources and environmental studies, biology, and food and bioprocess engineering as well as more traditional areas,” he says.

Straub, professor and department chair of Biological Systems Engineering, is known for his ability to focus on the real-life applications of whatever he”s teaching. He says the most rewarding part of his career is having a positive effect on students. And his students are likely to tell you that his courses were the most beneficial in their college careers.

“His dedication to each student, an aspect often lacking in other college courses, evoked an appreciation for his desire that we learn the material,” said one former student. Another said, “to state that Dr. Straub was the best instructor I had would be an understatement…students did not learn facts for future regurgitation, but learned methodologies, concepts and skills that could be used long after the term expired.”

Straub who joined the faculty in 1979, has taught as many as 12 credits a semester and advised as many as 90 students. The dedication to his students and lasting impact on their careers has earned Straub the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award for 1997.

Among his other teaching-oriented accomplishments Straub has served or chaired the biological systems engineering instructional committee for most of his career. He has also served on the CALS curriculum executive committee, the Kellogg Curricular Revitalization Project committees, the College of Engineering committee on education, and the Farm and Industry Short Course committees. The Kellogg project led to the intensive study and revision of the curriculum in Biological Systems Engineering.

He also developed or helped develop Laboratory Improvement Grants which have lead to significant improvements in the laboratory teaching facilities available within his department. The most recent of these will provide graduate and undergraduate students with a new Design Computer Laboratory in fall 1998.

Straub is a previous recipient of the John S. Donald Teaching Award and the College of Engineering Polygon Outstanding Instructor Award.