‘Conveying that spark to students, that’s what it’s all about’
Florent Gauvin of the Department of the Built Environment and Karel van Donselaar of Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences were named as TU/e’s best bachelor’s and master’s teachers during MomenTUm 2023.
Our university’s brand-new best bachelor’s and master’s teachers are in wholehearted agreement. For Florent Gauvin and Karel van Donselaar, good teaching is about one thing: being able to convey that spark that gets students enthusiastic about what they are learning.
Four days after being named as the best bachelor’s and master’s teachers during MomenTUm, Florent Gauvin and Karel van Donselaar still haven’t quite come back to earth. “I’m never going to forget this moment,” says TU/e’s best bachelor’s teacher Florent Gauvin with great enthusiasm.
“When my name was called and I came on stage to receive the award, I blacked out. I took the microphone and improvised a speech and left the stage again. My head’s still in the clouds. My phone vibrated all weekend with the many congratulations that came in.”
Watching from Japan
Florent’s father had come over from France to witness the ceremony. “My girlfriend was there along with many students and colleagues from my department. The rest of my family watched via video link - my mother and brother from Grenoble in France and my youngest brother all the way from Japan.”
Florent, named as the best bachelor’s teacher, considered the nomination itself a great honor. “Whether I’d win didn’t really matter. The fact that students see and appreciate my teaching efforts is enough. I had so many congratulations beforehand because I was nominated. You’re among the best teachers; that’s already an amazing recognition.”
Karel van Donselaar, named as the best master’s teacher, has nearly 40 years of teaching experience at TU/e but has never experienced this before. “This was once in a lifetime,” he says afterwards.
Everyone in the spotlight
Although the winner’s buzz feels wonderful, they both feel a little burdened by all the attention now focused on them. “The other nominated teachers also deserve their moment in the spotlight because they too are fantastic teachers who deserve to win this title,” says Karel.
Sharing with family
Karel had invited his husband, parents, parents-in-law and three brothers to join him for the day. “I showed them around the TU/e campus and told them about my work as a teacher. It was a big day for me no matter what, one that I was happy to share with my family.”
Florent recognizes that feeling. “Being nominated for your teaching is something my family can relate to. It’s about connecting yourself with other people. It would be different if I were nominated for my research. It’s harder for them to get an idea of that.”
I have never enjoyed teaching as much as I do now.
Best master’s teacher Karel van Donselaar
Karel jokes that he doesn’t think about stopping work at all now. “My husband regularly asks me when I’ll stop (he is 62 years old, ed.). I always reply that I enjoy the contact with the students too much to already stop. I really have something to tell them and to teach them. I help them with their personal and professional development, such as by coaching them while they are working on their master’s theses. I derive enormous pleasure from that.”
Around the world
In nearly 40 years of teaching in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, he has mentored hundreds of students. Many of them congratulated him on LinkedIn for winning the title of best master’s teacher. “Congratulations came from India, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, America. Thanks in part to my teaching, they’ve fanned out around the world and still remember me after all these years. Isn’t that fantastic!”
‘Keep innovating’ is Karel’s credo. “Whereas it used to be mainly traditional lectures, I now create PowerPoint slides with audio and video recordings to impart knowledge to students. When we get together, there’s plenty of room to ask questions. Students work on topics in small groups and present their solutions to each other, followed by a lively discussion. I have never enjoyed teaching as much as I do now. As a teacher, there is nothing greater than when you manage to create an atmosphere in which students feel free to say what they think and in which they learn from each other.”
“That is indeed the ultimate dream of teachers,” affirms Florent after hearing Karel’s words. “As a teacher, you have to constantly adapt and keep innovating. I try something new every year in my classes. It doesn’t always work out and that sometimes makes me feel self-conscious, but it doesn’t stop me from finding new ways to engage students. This makes me a better teacher and it’s fun to do.”
I want to teach. That’s the reason I work at a university.
Best bachelor’s teacher Florent Gauvin
Florent Gauvin (34) has been teaching for about a decade. As a PhD student back at the Université de Sherbrooke (near Montreal), he was already keen to jump into this. “I want to teach, that’s why I work at a university,” says the assistant professor at the Department of Built Environment.
“Teaching students energizes me. I’m sometimes tired before I have to give a lecture but as soon as I walk into the hall and see the students, I get an enormous energy boost. That’s what I do it for. I also learn a lot from them because our students are extremely smart. They are critical and ask questions that I sometimes haven’t thought of. That then gets me thinking again. Teachers are no longer just temples of information; we share ideas and debate them in order to learn. We’re there to help ignite that spark in students.”
It gives me a kick when students see what they can achieve with their knowledge.
Best master’s teacher Karel van Donselaar
Karel is also a firm believer in ensuring the relevance of what he teaches to students. “Did you know that 30% of all of the food produced in the world is thrown away? We can reduce food waste in supermarkets with our mathematical models because they help to make important decisions. Those models seem abstract but by inviting people from industry, we can enable students to see what the impact can be. It gives me a kick when students see what they can achieve with their knowledge.”
What is normal?
In addition to disciplinary knowledge, Karel also hopes to play a role in the personal development of his students. “I hope that their time here at the university shapes and sharpens their minds. I also try to get them to think about what their framework is, what they consider ‘normal’.”
“Last year during Diversity Week, for instance, I adapted an assignment in the Retail Operations master’s course to that theme by making the owners of a supermarket an interracial gay couple with a son. In doing so, I want to stimulate students to consider how they themselves think about these themes, through which I hope to contribute to their personal development.”
For Florent, his research into new materials – such as biobased materials – is a perfect combination with teaching about them. “My research has a strong impact on what I want to teach students. I have so much more knowledge than I did ten years ago thanks to my research. I use that knowledge to develop my courses. Students get the latest insights from this that they don’t get from textbooks, which they find interesting.”
“I can do research anywhere; the combination with teaching can only be done at a university. I hope to continue my career in this way so that eventually, like Karel’s, my partner will ask me when I’m going to stop. Never!”
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