Peter H. Carnell, Ph.D., P.E.
Dr. Carnell earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech. He has been a licensed professional engineer for over 20 years and seeks ways to bring his work experience into the classroom. He has taught at the University of Georgia since 2014 and previously taught at Georgia Tech from 2006 to 2014. His teaching interests include teaching mechanics and design. He seeks to develop professional skills in the classroom to better prepare students for industry.
“I came to see teaching less as a performance than as a conversation—a conversation that’s part of a relationship with my students.”
A short conversation about ENED with Dr. Carnell:
What are some important characteristics for a teacher to possess and how do you embody that in your teaching?
I started out trying to be a perfect teacher. But this got in the way of the learning environment I wanted to create. I came to see teaching less as a performance than as a conversation—a conversation that’s part of a relationship with my students. If they don’t understand something the first time I explain it, I can always go back, clarify it, or suggest an alternative approach. That’s part of the conversation. If a student points out a mistake, I thank them and make the correction. I don’t need to argue or get defensive. This models how I want young engineers to deal with their own work.
What do you like most about working in the College of Engineering at UGA?
I really like how our students work together and share what they learn. I love it when I hold study sessions—or come to the classroom early—and see students teaching and learning from each other. As the college grows, we should take care to preserve this collaborative environment. It’s good for learning. It also helps prepare students for collaborative work as engineers.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing society today, and what is the role of engineering educators to address them?
Our society wants rapid, sustained technological advances. But it can be a bit stingy about financing the engineering education necessary to achieve them. We need to do a better job of communicating the social value of strong engineering education programs. We also need to be sure to equip young engineers with lifelong learning skills so that they can adapt on their own as technology evolves and the needs of society change.
What role does preparing students for engineering practice play in your teaching?
Preparing students for practice is central to my teaching. I’ve had my professional engineer’s license for more than two decades. I draw on my work experiences to help students understand best practices. I’ve also found that practical examples help motivate students who might otherwise see coursework simply as a chore.
What have you observed in a classroom that puzzles, interests, or intrigues you about student learning?
In a fundamental course like Statics or Fluid Dynamics, we see large variations in students’ skill sets and preparation. I want to teach these courses in a way that both challenges the best students and helps students who are struggling. To help achieve that goal, I’m making use of peer tutoring: pairing strong students with students who need help. The student that needs help benefits from individualized attention. But the stronger student also benefits. To explain a concept clearly, you have to understand it clearly, and in the process of explaining it, you can gain new insight. Both students hone their communication skills.