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IMSE professor Noble wins award for writing-intensive coursework

Noble

James Noble, a professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department, was awarded the 2014 Win Horner Award for Innovative Writing Intensive Teaching from the Campus Writing Program in April.

Writing has long been a centerpiece of James Noble’s teaching efforts, and last spring, it caught the attention of the University of Missouri’s Campus Writing Program.

Noble, a professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department, was awarded the 2014 Win Horner Award for Innovative Writing Intensive Teaching from the Campus Writing Program in April. The two-year-old award seeks to acknowledge faculty who “start a new Writing Intensive (WI) course or take a new direction with their WI teaching.” The award is named for former MU professor of linguistics Win Horner, who chaired the committee that created the first “Writing Across the Curriculum” program at MU.

Noble’s writing intensive coursework is a key component of the capstone design program he directs. The capstone, which is a two-course sequence, pairs students with companies or organizations in industry for a project in which they take the skills from the coursework and apply it in real-world situations, giving them a taste of life after graduation.

As part of their work, students are required to provide frequent progress reports on their projects both to the companies and Noble. Participating companies have included Schneider Electric, Scholastic Inc., AZZ Incorporated, Socket Telecom, University Hospital and American Air Filter, among several others.

“I sell them up front on the need to have good writing ability, telling them that this now is a taste of the real world,” Noble said. “They are writing progress reports to their clients as well as to me throughout the course of the semester. They, in that regard, are working in a consulting relationship with these companies.”

Solid writing skills did not used to be considered an engineering requirement, but today as noted in the engineering accreditation criteria (ABET) “an ability to communicate effectively” is a must. Reports and other written communication are a frequent part of life as an engineer.

“I truly see the need for an engineer to communicate well. WI courses provide the framework for integrating writing into what I’m teaching already,” Noble said.

WI faculty are nominated by fellow faculty members for the WI award. A cover letter written by the nominating faculty member — in Noble’s case, IMSE chair Luis Occena — course syllabus, sampling of pertinent assignments and a WI course proposal form are required. Noble’s work with WI classes was notable, having been part of his curricula since 1993.

His courses focus on more than just grammar and spelling. Noble stresses the importance of coherent writing and adopting a peer-review process, something he learned himself by having his wife, Kathy, edit his work throughout his career.

“My wife actually grew up overseas in England, and she learned the language better than I did,” he said with a laugh. “She reviewed everything I wrote early in my career, even still helps some today.”