Mechatronic Systems Engineering

Inspirational teacher Gary Wang scores with students

March 19, 2015

By Allen Tung for SFU News  

How do you get students to remember a concept? Well, you pull a wrench out of your suit jacket during class.  

What about explaining the Saint-Venant’s Principle—a concept relating to mechanical stress? Again, you reach into your suit jacket and pull out a nylon scrubber. Push the two ends together and there you have it—a demonstration of the Saint-Venant’s Principle.

These tricks all come from School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering professor Gary Wang, an “outside the box” thinker and teacher, and winner of a 2014 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

“Dr. Wang clearly demonstrates the ability to bring innovation into the classroom to engage mechatronic students in a creative but challenging environment,” says one nominator.

Each semester, Wang makes it a priority to build a personal connection with all of his students by learning their names and a nugget of information about them. He says it is important because otherwise he’d just be lecturing to a “forest” of students.

“You build that personal relationship so when you talk about something you will think, ‘Hey, maybe John has problems understanding that,’” Wang says. “You can tailor your approach to the students’ interests and try another way to explain it.”

So it’s not surprising that students have consistently ranked him among the best teachers in the school. A class of 44 students in MSE 320 Machine Design, for example, gave him a 3.92 out of 4.0 on a faculty evaluation survey.

“He has been an outstanding faculty member of our school and has played an important role in shaping our strong reputation for teaching excellence,” a nominator says.

Teaching is very meaningful for Wang because the impact is far-reaching. He says while typically an academic journal article reaches dozens, teaching reaches hundreds.

“Every year, I have 200 to 300 students and 39 hours of interaction with them at minimum,” Wang says.

“I feel privileged to be teaching.”