Profiles in Teaching
Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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Abigail Engelberth, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

"I want my students to leave my courses confident in their newly acquired abilities. I want them to be able to communicate their ideas and findings with a broad audience to make the biggest impact possible." - Abigail Engelberth

Profiles in Teaching focuses each month on an individual whose work reflects Purdue Agriculture's commitment to learning.

About the Professor

When Abigail Engelberth, an assistant professor in Purdue's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), started her undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, she did not intend to work in agriculture. Engelberth grew up in the heart of a reasonably large city, Des Moines, Iowa, and her involvement in agriculture was about as much as the next person—she was a consumer. But as she completed her master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas, she found her path had taken a turn in that direction.

"I have been at Purdue in agriculture for four years," she said. "Yet, I never imagined myself with a focus on agriculture."

Teaching Philosophy

Engelberth teaches classes in both ABE and Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE) in the College of Engineering. Her teaching and research focus on renewable resources and making use of waste products from biorefineries, which process vegetation to procure ingredients for various products.

For example, some of her work looks at waste products produced when corn is made into ethanol, and how these products might be used to make adhesives, plastics or fuel additives. Part of her research focuses on separation; she enjoys learning how to recover the product of interest in an economic fashion. Given the complex nature of lecture topics in her classes, Engelberth adheres to a teaching philosophy centered on comprehension and context.

"I know I understand concepts better if they are put into a relatable context," Engelberth said. "I really strive to give students 'real world' examples of problems similar to the assignments and projects."

Part of Engelberth's philosophy is to emphasize to students the importance of putting in the hours and work needed to get the full benefit from their time at Purdue. When she mentors students, she cautions them not to spread themselves too thin in extracurricular activities. She also shares this philosophy when leading professional development seminars for graduate students.

"As an instructor, I can see how much more they can get out of a course if they just dig a little deeper and put in the needed effort," she said.

Desired Student Outcomes

Engelberth enjoys working with her students at Purdue, especially because ABE and EEE programs allows her to work closely with smaller groups of students—sometimes on a one-on-one level. Engelberth does everything she can to ensure her students master classroom topics.

"I enjoy that 'aha moment' when I am teaching," she said. "It's great when you are working with a student on something and they just aren't understanding it, so you have to figure out a different way to explain things. Often you can see that moment in their eyes when they just get it. I think that is really great."

Engelberth also has a passion for problem-solving. "I work with human problems, student problems and science problems, which all offer differences and alternatives," she said. Her passions come from realizing all the possible impacts.

Most important to Engelberth is that her students come away from her courses confident and ready to improve the world around them.

"I love working with the students who have the energy and ideas," she said. "Crazy ideas challenge everyone to think about situations differently and how we can improve them."

By Emma Hopkins and Katie Barnett

Purdue Agriculture Teaching Profiles are written by students majoring in Agricultural Communication.

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