Some professors teach with overheads or PowerPoint. Some teach by lecture. Tom Dickinson teaches by demonstration. Hands-on demonstrations and in-class puzzlers (questions and problems) are essential to his course.

“He rarely lectures but instead focuses on furthering our deeper understanding in what I now can see are the basics of physics,” said Christopher Bates, undergraduate physics and biochemistry major. “He forced us to learn the equations and general topics on our own from our textbook so that he could clarify, build and correct us on the conceptual ideas.”

In addition to challenging students in the classroom, Dickinson pushes them to excel in the laboratory. His lab — filled with lasers, ultrahigh vacuum systems, spectrometers and atomic-force microscopes — is ideal for learning “on the job.”

“Typically I have five to six undergraduates working with me in the research lab,” he said. “Many of these people end up with publications and a chance at good graduate programs.”

His dedication to teaching students both in the classroom and the laboratory distinguishes Dickinson. He will be honored March 24 with the 2005-2006 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Instruction.

“He’s really dedicated to undergraduate education,” said Matt McCluskey, associate professor of physics. “You consistently hear two things from his students: One, they love how different his classes are and, two, they are very enthusiastic about the impression the class has left on them — there is a lot of interaction between the students and Tom.”

Though many praise Dickinson’s teaching style, he sees his teaching on par with that offered at any top university.

“I ask students to get as much out of the classes as they can,” he said.

“I think a balance between teaching and research is very important, and WSU is in a position to continue encouraging that. This balance keeps us involved in breakthroughs in technology and science — and we are sending out the door outstanding students who are in high demand!” he said. “I think it is a win-win situation.”