Bringing industry experience and insights to academia
Apr 18, 2017 | Atlanta
William J. Baron is one of two recipients of the 2017 Geoffrey G. Eichholz Faculty Teaching Award. He is the director of undergraduate studies and a senior academic professional in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Baron joined Georgia Tech in 2002, after a distinguished career at Bell Laboratories.
“During the course of developing new products and technologies at Bell Labs, I learned a number of life’s lessons that apply to teaching,” Baron says. “Upon retirement from industry, I was ready to give back to the academic community through teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
In Georgia Tech, Baron realized his second calling – to help students and faculty through his teaching and by sharing his experience and insights from his industry career. Baron’s “outstanding and consistently skillful leadership” has immensely benefitted students, staff, and curricula, says School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Chair M.G. Finn.
Baron teaches chemistry core courses, which serve many Georgia Tech students. Students say Baron cares that they learn. He is “extraordinarily interested in his students’ success,” says one student, “which is surprisingly rare at Tech,” says another. Baron’s “love for his students and passion for teaching are truly inspirational,” says a third student. “He’s one of the best teachers at Georgia Tech.”
What students experience reflects what Baron believes: “Teaching should be fun, stimulating, and experientially based,” Baron says. “Teaching needs to come from the heart, as well as the head. The teacher needs to have great interpersonal skills, be approachable, and find great joy in helping others to learn and solve problems.”
Baron oversees the school’s undergraduate degree programs. Various initiatives he led have enhanced the curricula. For example, he managed the introduction of a common syllabus, common lecture resources, common exams, and common online homework for general chemistry. He guided a major curriculum change for organic chemistry and the development of a bioorganic chemistry course. Most recently, he defined the Pre-Health Science tracks for chemistry and biochemistry majors.
Baron’s leadership and industry experience carries over to environmental health and safety. For 10 years he chaired the Georgia Tech Chemical and Environmental Safety committee. Consisting of faculty and professionals, this committee advises the Georgia Tech Office of Environmental Health and Safety on best practices for safe ordering, storage, use, and disposal of chemicals.
In applying technology to teaching, Baron has been path-breaking. As soon as he joined Georgia Tech, he personally wired the general chemistry classrooms so he can use an interactive response system. Starting in 2008, Baron “flipped” his classroom. Instead of delivering lectures in class, he records his lectures, which students view ahead of the class. Baron then devotes class time to discussion and exercises. Baron was also an early champion of the Piazza platform, a 24/7 learning environment.
“Georgia Tech students are exceptional, and teaching them is a privilege,” Baron says. “Their dedication and eagerness to learn is wonderful. It makes my job easier.”