Engineering Science

Engineer turns teaching into award-winning career

March 18, 2011

Simon Fraser University engineering science professor John Jones sets a teaching standard that first year students in the discipline use as a benchmark to judge all other professors. That’s what led him to secure a $2,000 cash SFU 2010 Excellence in Teaching award.

Exciting. Entertaining. Energetic. These are all words that students use to describe Jones’ teaching.

Yet the Coquitlam resident didn’t set out to become a teacher, despite spending an enjoyable two-and-a-half years as headmaster of a small school in Kenya during his 20s. He was intent on researching and creating technology for the developing world.

Instead, he wound up as a staff research engineer at General Motors in Detroit, Missouri before accepting an associate professorship at SFU in 1988.

“I hadn’t expected to like the teaching, but I found it more rewarding than research,” says Jones, who still likes the excitement of working with young people who have fresh ideas. “I enjoy teaching first-year students. They come in enthusiastic, with very high expectations.”

To sustain that enthusiasm during first year, when engineering science students primarily study math and science, Jones tailor-made an engineering-history course to meet his students needs. It gives students a glimpse of what they can expect from a career in engineering. It’s a popular course, designed to awaken their curiosity.

“Unless students have questions, there is no learning,” says Jones. He frequently presents paradoxes with ridiculous conclusions that force the students to re-examine what they think they know.

Students say they appreciate his emphatic lecturing style, his passion for his subject and, most of all, his quirky sense of humour.

“It doesn’t distract from his lectures, it complements them,” says one student nominator. “Students love this. It makes them listen. It makes them smile. Being happy in class stimulates the learning within me.”

John Jones, 778.782.4679,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Story credit/SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations