Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Nicholas Pohlman was named NIU Presidential Teaching Professor for 2022
What year did you start working at NIU?
Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
I was raised in Venedocia, Ohio, which has a population of approximately 150. I now reside in Geneva, Illinois.
Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
University of Dayton, B.S. in mechanical engineering
MIT, S.M. in aeronautics and astronautics
Northwestern University, Ph.D. in mechanical engineering
In which department(s) do you teach?
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Were you a first-generation college student?
What do you like about working at NIU?
Teaching the persistent and dedicated students who are balancing many other endeavors in their lives. There is great opportunity here for faculty members to follow their passion while being encouraged to effectively engage elements, no matter if they rank research, teaching or service first.
What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Incorporate many activities "outside" the classroom into your learning beyond the degree itself. A resume with a great GPA in a degree program is an access point for entry-level jobs. The extra activities in which you engage will truly set you apart as you embark on the first steps in your real-world career.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I have collaborated on Fermilab projects as a design engineer since 2008. I have served as research advisor for a number of M.S. students, serving projects like mu2e, muon g-2 and PIP-II. I also study discrete granular flows that bridge the behaviors of solid-like and fluid-like behaviors. Publications from undergraduate authors dot my CV in multiple locations.
What do you hope students take away from your class?
Students should understand the concept of the course learning objectives and how it can be applied to new situations. Engineering isn't about teaching how to solve one particular problem. Engineering provides many tools to approach problems using all available approaches, hopefully leading to meaningful analysis and communication of an "answer" to the client/boss/whomever. My teaching philosophy is to help students point their lanterns of knowledge (or in some cases, smartphone flashlights) along any of the paths to a learning destination.
What is your favorite campus event?
I love the first day of class with students. I also enjoy giving pennies to my UEET 101 classes that eventually turn into Engineering and Technology Alumni Society challenge coins after commencement.
Who has influenced your professional path?
Dave Changnon helped serve as an initial mentor when I joined NIU. Brianno Coller has been the educator expert I have been attempting to emulate for a number of years. My own graduate advisor from Northwestern, Richard Lueptow, showed that educating students can be an important part of a faculty member's career, even at an R1 institution. Knowing my passion to educate, he helped steer me to a more-education focused university like NIU, where I still have opportunities for research.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
As a youth, I thought of following the generational path of becoming a farmer. When introduced to STEM education and realizing my propensity to solve problems, engineering was a natural path. However, instead of engineering the next great product or device after graduating from Dayton, I get the thrill of helping the next generation of engineers make those contributions.
Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I'm a member of American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics.
What community organizations are you involved in?
I am the advancement coordinator for Boy Scout Troop 37 in Geneva. The role allows me to help members advance through the ranks, including serving as the chair of the committee conducting Eagle Scout boards of review. Seeing youth grow in confidence, leadership and knowledge in scouts is just a junior version of what happens with NIU students. I also serve the Geneva Baseball Association as a coach and member of the executive board. As Rookie League commissioner, I get the pleasure of coordinating volunteer coaches who are introducing kindergarten and first graders to the beautiful sport of baseball.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
My recharge is the required 7 hours a sleep each night (except when grades or research proposals are due). Relaxation is watching my kids' many activities. Once a year, our family does like to get away to a cabin for some internet-disconnected quiet time with nature. A hike next to a lake or deep in the woods helps clear away the multitude of clutter; there is not a rush to get back!