Superhero of Teaching

Krannert faculty member voted best professor at Purdue

Julia Kalish's office mates are not of this world.

Julia Kalish

Purdue alumna and Krannert facutly member Julia Kalish continues to win accolades for her teaching. (Photo by Mark Simons.)

And though Captain America and Thor may not be able to give tips on management, their life-size cardboard cutouts certainly contribute to the lighthearted and welcoming nature of her interactions with students.

Kalish, who has earned three degrees from Purdue, was ranked No. 1 in the “Best Professors” category of the spring 2014 “Readers Choice” awards by The Exponent, the student newspaper at Purdue. Having taught more than a dozen courses across campus before joining Krannert’s faculty in 2011, the army veteran and mother of four now specializes in operations management.

Her classroom is definitely hands-on.

“We make little circuit boards,” Kalish says. “The students decide how to design the process for making the boards — how to arrange their tables, how to manage their inventories and what to do if there’s a quality problem.”

Kalish, whose doctoral dissertation focused on ergonomics, incorporates the topic often, even while teaching operations management.

“The gist of ergonomics is understanding how humans interact with the spaces they’ve created, whether it’s picking the chair that your students sit in or realizing that the human body can sit only so long before it becomes uncomfortable,” she says.

Comfortable seating is another inviting aspect of Kalish’s office. Gone are the stiffly padded chairs that are common in faculty offices. For her, Purdue tailgating lawn chairs are the seats of choice.

“And sometimes, you just need to get out of the classroom,” Kalish says. For several activities, including team-based, supply-chain simulation games, she takes her operations class to the Krannert Drawing Room.

When asked how she was drawn to teach in higher education, Kalish says it was inevitable.

“It wasn’t a decision ­— I can’t be anything else,” she says. “Even when I’m not teaching, I’m teaching.”

Kalish recently transitioned to a new, temporary position as interim associate dean of Purdue Extended Campus (PEC), which handles many of Purdue’s distance-learning programs, online courses and certifications.

One of PEC’s current initiatives is to facilitate the design and implementation of new online sections of Purdue undergraduate courses that expand the accessibility of needed courses to students beyond West Lafayette’s main campus. Kalish views the transformation of face-to-face courses to an online format as a necessary challenge and is committed to ensuring that the online environment supports student success.

“It’s a great example of Purdue’s offerings, but it’s not in the traditional, on-campus ‘brick-and-mortar’ model,” she says.

Kalish will return solely to teaching in January 2015 after her tenure as PEC’s associate dean and looks forward to bringing news ideas for teaching into the physical classroom.

“I hope to combine the best elements of both environments,” she says. “Wherever it takes place, teaching is ultimately about students learning.”