Robert Swendsen Wins Ashkin Teaching Award
By Jocelyn Duffy
Physics Professor Robert Swendsen's classes often leave students clamoring for more—even though they are some of the hardest they've ever taken. But due to Swendsen's teaching, the classes also are among their favorites.
"Professor Swendsen isn't the kind of professor who does research and teaches begrudgingly…he is a teacher first and foremost, and his love and passion for the profession is an evident truth to anyone who is fortunate enough to see him in front of a chalkboard," said a former student.
For his unusual devotion and effectiveness in teaching undergraduate students, Swendsen has been named the recipient of the Mellon College of Science's Julius Ashkin Teaching Award.
Famous for teaching courses in thermal physics and statistical mechanics, he gives his students every opportunity to succeed. Swendsen presents concepts in a logical rather than historical progression, provides daily homework assignments to ensure that students understand the concepts presented in class, and always has an open door. After taking Thermal Dynamics I with Swendsen, numerous students sign up for Thermal Dynamics II—making it one of the most popular electives in the physics department. After completing the second course, some students are so interested in the subject matter that they sign up for a supervised reading course with Swendsen, affectionately called "Thermal III and IV."
Swendsen's textbook An Introduction to Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics, which he developed while teaching at Carnegie Mellon, stands out among his students as a book that is highly informative and easy to understand. Many say that they have taken the book to use as a reference in graduate school and in their professional lives. Swendsen's teaching, too, has stayed with them post-graduation.
"Looking back on my time at CMU, I can draw a straight and direct line between the teachings and guidance provided by Professor Swendsen and my success after CMU," wrote a former student in his nomination letter.