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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 14, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 17
When the Prof Is the Pres

Wearing two extra hats, President Brody teaches Uncommon Sense: A Practical Approach to Problem Solving for Your Personal and Professional Life in the morning and An Introduction to Flying in the afternoon.
Photo by Jay VanRensselaer / HIPS

President Brody moves into the classroom for two offbeat classes

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Whether it's advising students how to strategize for a job interview or how to talk with an air traffic controller upon descent, university President William R. Brody has many words of wisdom to share, and he took full advantage this month.

For Intersession 2008, Brody stepped out of the President's Office and into the classroom to teach two courses, one on "uncommon sense" and another on flying.

The intersession program at Homewood, which runs from Jan. 7 to Jan. 25, offers undergraduates dozens of one- and two-credit courses for academic exploration, experiential learning and personal enrichment, along with opportunities for studying abroad. Since 2001, intersession has featured many courses with an applied, "real world" bent.

Realizing the importance of good judgment and sound reason, President Brody in 1999 created the course Uncommon Sense: A Practical Approach to Problem Solving for Your Personal and Professional Life. Offered by the Whiting School of Engineering, the class deals with such everyday issues as making money, marketing yourself and prioritizing your time. It also attempts to answer such questions as, What should you do if you arrive at a final examination and find that the questions have nothing to do with the course material? The trick: Keep your answers short.

Brody said that "the boundaries" are pretty well defined in most classes, and he wanted to offer a course that could not be pigeonholed and would be focused on approaches to problems rather than solutions.

"What we do here in higher education is give students answers to questions that we already know, and then, at the end of the term, get them to give us the answers back," he said. "Yet so much of life is trying to deal with questions that have never been asked before, and questions that don't necessarily have clear or perfect answers. Sometimes you don't even know what the question is. The solution involves intuition and judgment, which you don't necessarily get in a traditional academic setting."

Brody, who has taught the course off and on since 1999, says that he loves teaching, enjoys keeping in contact with undergraduates and feels he has many lessons to share.

Prior to becoming the 13th president of the university, a post he has held for 11 years, Brody had active careers in academia, health care and business. He has been a co- founder of three medical device companies, and served as the president and chief executive officer of one of them, Resonex, from 1984 to 1987. He joined Johns Hopkins in 1987 and has served as the Martin W. Donner Professor and director of the Department of Radiology, professor of electrical and computer engineering, professor of biomedical engineering and radiologist in chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He's done his fair share of studying, but logic and reason, he says, have been key to his success, too. On day two of his Uncommon Sense class, he had the 18 students give oral presentations on why they deserved to be admitted to medical school. He wanted the students to learn how to sell themselves, which included putting themselves in the other person's shoes; in this case, the recruiter's. This approach, he said, applies to many things in life; many times, you need to take a step back and look at the situation with a fresh perspective.

"The process of reason, intuition and judgment, and putting all the pieces together, is really important. That is hopefully what will lead them into a successful career and successful life," he said. "I'm not sure I'm making a dent or having much of an impact on them, but I feel good giving them this advice."

Nick Arora, a sophomore public health major, said that he's getting what he hoped for.

"I registered for the course because I liked the idea of learning how to think in a different way," he said. "I thought I could learn from Dr. Brody's experience and see if I could adopt a more practical, realistic way to approaching life. I guess, too, we're all impressed with what he has to offer."

This intersession, Brody also wanted to pass on his love of flying to students, so he created the new course An Introduction to Flying: So You Want to Be a Pilot, also in the School of Engineering. Brody, who has logged countless hours in the air, holds a private pilot license with airline transport pilot and flight instructor ratings.

In collaboration with two colleagues, including a former flight instructor of his, Brody designed the class to offer an introduction to the basic principles of flight and the process of obtaining a pilot's license. It includes a series of lectures that provide preparation for the private pilot rating, including talks on aerodynamics, weather, instrumentation, communication and regulations. The course also employs a PC-based flight simulator, set up in Nichols House (Brody's campus residence), and one hour of in- flight instruction in a training aircraft at flight school at Martin State Airport, located in northeast Baltimore.

Brody calls the class "an experiment."

"I thought there might be students interested in flying, and there were many more than I thought," said Brody, who had to limit the class at 10 due to practical considerations.

One of these students, Brian Miller, said that he's been interested in learning how to fly and took the course to see if it was something he wanted to pursue. Miller, a senior in engineering, said that the course also offered him the opportunity to meet President Brody.

"I had never spoken to him before, so this has already been a good experience for me," he said. "He's very approachable and has a lot to offer."

One such pearl of wisdom was what to do when an air traffic controller talks way too fast and you have no clue what to do next. Brody had such an experience during a training flight, and the California native politely told the controller, in the best Southern drawl he could muster, that he was a student pilot and not used to people talking that fast where he was from. The controller got the hint and repeated himself more slowly. Brody passed his test. You could say it was another victory for common sense and reason.


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