Not hard, not easy: New professor to challenge students

Michael Blackson
Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Jack Ogutu is one of 10 new faculty members to join Millersville University this past fall semester, one of two in the Applied Engineering, Safety and Technology program.
He is a professor of occupational safety and ergonomics, who was previously employed at Auburn University, Alabama, as a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant.
A native of Kenya who moved to Alabama, and settling down in the small, quiet town of Millersville traveled many miles to continue doing what he loves: teaching.
Since his undergraduate years at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Ogutu knew the life of a professor was his calling.
“I already knew, that at some point, I wanted to teach,” he said.
When he obtained his degree in mechanical engineering, however, Dr. Ogutu began his professional career in the industry rather than immediately pursuing his teaching dreams.
His idea was to “work in the industry” for as long as he needed, based on the notion that he might enjoy working as an engineer instead.
During his three years as a mechanical engineer – employed at the beginning in quality engineering, then logistics – Dr. Ogutu evaluated himself and found his passion for teaching was still there.

Dr. Jack Ogutu, professor of occupational safety and ergonomics, in his office in Osburn Hall.
Dr. Jack Ogutu, professor of occupational safety and ergonomics, in his office in Osburn Hall.

“I think those three years really helped me,” he said. “There is a misperception that if you are a trained mechanical engineer, you are a quality engineer, you are a safety engineer. You are training as a mechanical engineer, you are never prepared to handle quality of safety issues.”
The best option was furthering his education through graduate school in the States.
He applied to the University of Western Michigan and Auburn University, where the latter convinced him the cost of living and weather were better compared to Michigan.
“They [Auburn] told me the weather was too cold in Michigan, I would not survive coming from Kenya,” Dr. Ogutu said.
In Alabama, Dr. Ogutu spent his time there as a graduate student in the department of Industrial & Systems Engineering.
He had two years of teaching assistantship and another three years of research assistantship. As Dr. Ogutu puts it, “I had the feel of what I wanted to do.”
More favorable to teach than sit in a lab and perform research, Dr. Ogutu was focused on many teaching universities when he decided to move on from Auburn University. Millersville was one of those choices, though he looked at two other Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institutions.
His advisor knew Dr. Ogutu and knew what he wanted. When the job opening appeared for Millersville, Dr. Ogutu’s advisor was quick to alert him.
His choices were whittled down to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and Millersville University of Pennsylvania. He had great interviews with both of them, but ultimately, Millersville contacted Dr. Ogutu first and offered him the position.
“I’ve already interviewed there, I like the facility, I like the campus, I like the faculty,” he said.
Dr. Ogutu’s move from Alabama to Pennsylvania could be summed in two words: weather and unfamiliarity.
He had heard stories about Pennsylvania from other people, concerning the cold weather and large amounts of snow that would come in October and last until February. When it did not snow until January, he asked his students in the fall semester where the snow was.
As his experience with the northern snowstorm came around in the spring semester, he said that when it snows in Pennsylvania, there is certainly a lot of snow, but it is not very cold as compared to Alabama.
Needless to say, as a new resident of the state, he loses his way driving around the area. His Global Positioning System (GPS) has helped him numerous times.
With the move, Dr. Ogutu also took his teaching style and courses he had studied in Auburn.
He teaches Human Factors, Safety Engineering, and Industrial Hygiene – all in the hopes that his students leave his classes having learned something.
“I talk too fast, I did not get it,” he said about students who often struggle in his courses. But the success rate compared to last year has improved, of which makes him feel better.
“I don’t want to be a tough professor, but I also don’t want to be an easy professor,” Dr. Ogutu said.
If he walks into class and does not challenge his students, he is underestimating their intelligence.
At the same time, if he is a hard professor, then he is overwhelming his students.
Dr. Ogutu’s objective is simple.
“When they walk out from this place, there’s nothing that should make them not equally competitive with someone who went to a different school and took a similar course,” he said.