Weisman

A CONVERSATION WITH RICK WEISMAN

On his trusted ear, travels, and trumpet

Last year, when you were nominated for a national teaching award, many of your former students volunteered to write testimonials on your behalf. What inspires that kind of affection, even after so many years?

Simply put, I take an interest in students as human beings. They sense that I like them and am interested in them beyond their performance in my class. I have also learned from experience that success in life and career is not "grade-dependent."

You've served in several administrative positions throughout your Lehigh career, from associate chair of CEE to associate dean of undergraduate studies for the College of Engineering. How have those assignments informed your teaching since?

I know that many students struggle with more than their academics. Many have financial issues, family and other relationship difficulties, health problems, and difficulties juggling many commitments. More often than not they're the students who never tell you anything. So I ask them why they're struggling, try to listen, be friendly, draw it out of them. I want them to know I'm concerned, and try to intercede by referring them to the professional help available on campus.

You frequently travel with students on international trips. How do these experiences shape a young engineer's worldview?


Weisman and students

I travel with engineering and other students in Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and I have been teaching a winter-term course (with colleagues in The College of Arts and Sciences) on sustainable development in Costa Rica. I have also been privileged to travel with the Martindale Student Associates Program to various countries around the world. The students in EWB quickly learn that the biggest problems we encounter are not technical. Social cohesion and trust must be built, sometimes slowly. It is easier to build a pipeline system than to create a sense of common purpose and collaboration in a community. Civil engineers, especially, often work on projects that require community input and review. Learning to work with and listen to community input and then selling a "solution" are important life lessons for students.

After more than 40 years of teaching, what do you consider your most important work? Your most satisfying work?

I really like doing applied and practical work, theory-to-practice kinds of things. That's mostly because of my association with students and people like Dan Zeroka [CEE engineering technician]. It's fun to work in groups of people engaged in a common and useful enterprise.

The most important work I do is to mentor young adults and help them with the transition to "professional." Ultimately the best technique is be a good role model—in a way that goes beyond just teaching a course to deliver information.

I have many interests. I play music, go to the gym, try to live what I think is a well-rounded and complete life. Perhaps a student notices and says, "I can live that way, too." Like being a parent, it's not what you say that sticks, but being a good role model.

When young alums return and show their appreciation for the process they went through at Lehigh, I get tremendous satisfaction.

Graduates

You play trumpet in many groups on and around campus, including the university orchestra, a brass ensemble, and a mariachi band. Which one is your favorite?

Unequivocally my favorites are the brass ensemble—playing baroque and classical music—and orchestra. The music is deep and rich. It is soul-satisfying to play Bach and Tchaikovsky. That said, it is fun to play mariachi and ragtime and swing, too!