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Getting the method

Inniss stands next to a projection screen showing an outline of upcoming classes.

Enos Inniss said he much prefers using class time for a discussion of the topic, providing a chance for students to ask probing questions about the material and talk through the process of getting to the correct answers to problems in order to gain a deeper understanding of the methodology. Photo by Ryan Owens.

There’s a sign on Enos Inniss’ desk that sums up his preferred teaching style to a T. It’s not large or ornate, and its simple message gets directly to the point.

“I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”

The assistant teaching professor from MU’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department teaches both core courses such as fluid mechanics and electives dealing mainly with issues related to his expertise areas of storm water and water quality. In each of these classes, his goal isn’t simply for students to get the right answer — though that’s still important — but rather to understand the full process of how to get to said answer. While he admitted it takes the students a little time to get used to, Inniss said the point is for students to understand the methods used to reach a solution — a skill they’ll need as they enter the working world.

“Once you get out in the real world, you can’t look in the back of the book and find the answer,” Inniss said. “You have to say, ‘Okay, what’s the scenario I’m given? What’s the best approach to getting to a solution?’

“[Simply getting the answer] isn’t as important to me as what process did you follow in order to come up to a solution to the problem.”

He’s also not a big fan of the old-school “professor talks/students listen and take notes” style of lecturing. Inniss said he much prefers using class time for a discussion of the topic, providing a chance for students to ask probing questions about the material and talk through the process of getting to the correct answers to problems in order to gain a deeper understanding of the methodology.

“My goal is to get students asking questions during class,” he explained. “From an engineering practice perspective, there’s never a time when you’ll walk into a situation and understand everything that’s happening. So the first thing you need to do is go to someone who’s knowledgeable and start asking questions.”

Civil engineering senior Dillon Flesner is likely more familiar with this approach than anyone currently on campus. He’s taken at least four of Inniss’ courses. But this style isn’t necessarily unique to one faculty member. Flesner noted that many members of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department faculty set up their classes in a similar way with a similar goal — arming future engineers with the problem-solving tools they’ll need when they leave Mizzou.

“I like to be able to ponder the subject matter and then I prefer to have the time to ask my own questions,” Flesner explained.

“Instead of giving you a bunch of material and expecting you to [memorize] it, they would rather work with you and make sure you understand the concepts behind it.”

The MU College of Engineering prides itself on its tradition of educating future engineering leaders. A critical part of that mission is training technically proficient engineers, and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department’s methods ensure that this tradition will continue long into the future.