Skip to content

Barber Named Arthur F. Thurnau Professor


Barber Professor Jim Barber has been named an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of the University of Michigan for a three-year term beginning July 1, 2005. The University each year designates Thurnau Professors for their outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. The Professorships, named after alumnus Arthur F. Thurnau, are supported for the past 18 years by the Thurnau Charitable Trust.

Barber has made an exceptional and sustained contribution to the excellence of undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, where he has had a distinguished career for the past 24 years. During this period of time, he has touched the lives of thousands of undergraduate students. His tireless efforts to routinely teach four classes a year, including two populous undergraduate courses are impressive and indicative of his love for teaching. Indeed, there are few professors who have been as deeply involved in the lives of undergraduates students as Professor Barber. His passion about solid and applied mechanics and their role in society and engineering is inspiring and contagious to both his students and colleagues.

Barber’s teaching philosophy is to introduce new concepts in very simple and concrete contexts, often using household props like cardboard tubes, broom sticks, string paper and scotch tape, so that he can appeal to the students’ intuitive grasp of the physical world. As one of his co-instructors says, “he uses multiple teaching techniques that appeal to different learning styles. The visual learners are immediately engaged by his demonstrations, the analytical thinkers are rewarded by his general conclusions via equations, and the intuitive learners get a quick head start with his thought experiments.” Another one of his co-instructors comments “the students find the suspense and theater of such in-class examples riveting, but what became clear to me watching him is that Jim uses these techniques very deliberately to ‘break up’ lectures and to more effectively connect with the students.”

Barber is the author of the popular undergraduate textbook Intermediate Mechanics of Materials, which has been adopted at numerous institutions. His textbook combines a high level of technical sophistication with a thorough presentation of the basic physical principles and thinking necessary for an undergraduate’s understanding of the concepts. He has also authored the widely-used monograph, Elasticity, which has become the classic reference work on the subject and has been adopted by more than 30 universities around the world. His prolific authorship of textbooks is symptomatic of his desire to expose and reinforce the philosophical underpinnings of his subject. Barber regularly motivates class applications, examples and homework problems with case studies that arise in his research.

ME students deeply admire and appreciate Barber for his contributions to their education. He is generous with his time in helping students outside the classroom, both with curriculum-related questions and broader issues of personal career choices and planning. He is a constant source of influence, inspiration and support to undergraduates in the ME Learning Center, where he spends countless hours helping students taking his class or doing capstone design projects. He exhibits an unparalleled commitment to his students through his availability, responsiveness, and willingness to aid them in their learning endeavors. His mentorship is appreciated as much by the department’s graduate students as by its undergraduates.

The Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship will be formally presented at the 82nd Annual Honors Convocation on Sunday, March 20, 2005.

Story tags

faculty professorship

Faculty featured in this story