Wednesday, February 10, 1999

UC professor tries to instill love of learning

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        David Greenberg wants his students to fall in love with learning.

        The professor of chemical engineering has had a lifelong love affair with the joys of discovering and understanding what's new and unknown. This love has made him a happy man and paid him countless rewards.

        He wants to instill that same love of learning in his students at the University of Cincinnati. But he feels he faces a difficult challenge. Many of the people who listen while he lectures only want to learn enough to get by.

        “I've been here at UC for 25 years,” he told me. “I've been teaching for 35 years. Students are as bright as they ever were. Their grades are higher than ever. Unfortunately, far too many students are not intellectually driven anymore.”

        They don't show him a love of learning. They don't want to engage in theoretical debates.

        “They only want to argue tooth and nail about points on an exam.”

        They only want to learn enough to earn a degree in chemical engineering and land a high-paying job.

        He wants to teach them that they are shortchanging themselves. Fall in love with learning, he believes, and they'll discover there's more to life than grades, degrees and jobs.

        Professor Greenberg shared his concerns during this week's “Lunch with Cliff.” That's where I treat people to their midday meal to find out what's on their minds.

        While dining in the Strader Room of UC's student union, I found out that mental images of students whose gray matter is curiosity-challenged are the professor's constant lunchtime companions. Four days a week, after his afternoon run and workout, he goes to his office and munches on rice cakes and sips fruit juice while he chews over the deterioration of students' intellectual vigor.

        Even during his once-a-week lunches out — as this meal was — he dines with his worry and disappointment. He's disturbed by students wanting a risk-free education and not wanting to be challenged.

        David Greenberg is a teacher struggling to ignite students.

        He remembers, 10-15 years ago, when students had their minds in gear and not just on matters of chemical engineering.

        “I used to invite some of my grad students, undergraduates and colleagues from other disciplines over to my house on a Friday night for a discussion about the future. I'd pose a problem, about, say, the Middle East, and the discussion would go on all night. We don't have those sessions anymore.”

        Now, when he tries to talk with students about current events, he can tell no one's interested.

        “Their silence,” he told me, “is the tip-off.”

        He is constantly looking for ways to shatter that silence.

        “I love games. So, I begin each class with a game, a word game, a game of logic. Something you can't use paper and pencil to solve. Something to make you use another part of your brain. Something to open your mind to new thoughts.”

        Another way he tries to break the silence is “by using examples from the real world in the classroom.”

        Professor Greenberg is not some intellectual egghead whose only contact with the world comes when he looks down from his ivory tower. During a youthful stint in the Navy, “where I learned to use four-letter words for two and a half minutes without repeating myself,” and his travels as a consulting engineer, he has compiled a huge collection of recipes.

        “I love to eat,” he told me. “And I love to cook.” He's writing a cookbook, featuring recipes he's collected from chefs around the world.

        Ever the professor, he sees the kitchen “as a chemical laboratory.” So his cooking experiences become lessons in the classroom.

        Every chance he gets he tries to take his students beyond the world of chemical engineering with his love of learning.

        “Learning is an unlimited experience. You don't just have to use your mind to argue points on exams, get a degree and go to work. There is a lot more to life than that.”


        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.