Center for Excellence Honoree: Mark Hoffman

Mark HoffmanStudents in Mark Hoffman's courses can expect anything but conventional teaching.

Hoffman, professor of computer science and recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award, is not a stand up and lecture until class is over type of teacher. He thinks that will bore him and students. Hoffman would rather try something different, particularly for QU 101: The Individual in the Community. The course examines individual and community identity, responsibilities of citizenship, ethics of community life and diversity.

Hoffman will have students play Identity, a card game similar to a game his parents played to help students remember concepts and terms, or he'll assign students to create a game with rules and the oddest props: a garden hose, an orange street cone and a broom. The point is for students to work collectively to achieve consensus, just as they would in a community.

"Then we go out to the Quad and play the game," Hoffman said. "Playing humanizes the students and me."

Hoffman makes sure all students participate in discussions by using the tag-team fishbowl technique. Students pair up and form an inner circle and an outer circle. Students in the inner circle discuss a topic while students in the outer circle only listen. When students in the outer circle want to say something, they enter the inner circle by tagging their partner who switches to the outer circle.

"It keeps them moving, requires them to say something and allows me to control students who say too much, so I can balance the conversation," Hoffman explained.

Aileen Dever, associate professor of modern languages, nominated Hoffman for the award. "Mark designs lessons so every student must participate and delve into deeper meanings thereby enriching and enhancing the academic experience," Dever wrote in the nomination form.

She saw the impact of Hoffman's teaching when she taught a course scheduled right after Hoffman taught QU 101 in the same classroom. "As his QU 101 students exited, I listened to them excitedly talk about topics they had learned in QU 101," Dever wrote. "I could see that Mark had truly inspired his students to get engaged in learning."

Hoffman credits his parents for his creativity. "My dad was a mechanical engineer who always wanted to design something unique," Hoffman said. "My mom was an artist. I've inherited the desire to always do something different."

Hoffman enjoys learning about his students. "They all have their own story and background," he said. "I challenge myself so by the second week of the semester, I can greet students on the Quad and know their name."

Raised in Orange, Conn., and now living in Milford, Conn., Hoffman taught math and chemistry at Notre Dame High School in West Haven from 1971 to 1985.

He joined Notre Dame after earning a bachelor's degree in physics in 1972 from the University of New Haven. "I played to my strong suit, and physics and math made a lot of sense to me whereas I struggled in English and history," Hoffman said.

The introduction of computers into classrooms in the early 1980s fascinated Hoffman. "I found them interesting and wanted to learn more about them," he said. He left Notre Dame in 1985 to start the information technology department at his father's business, Orange Research in Milford, which manufactures pressure gadgets. "I was excited about starting a new challenge," Hoffman said. His father started the company in the basement of his house.

Hoffman earned a master's degree in computers and information science in 1987 from the University of New Haven. "My master's degree whet my appetite," Hoffman said. "I knew there was a lot more to learn." He earned his doctorate in computer science in 2001 from Polytechnic University in New York City. While at Polytechnic, he saw a posting for a faculty position for Quinnipiac's new computer science department.

Jonathan Blake, chair of the computer science and interactive digital design department, said, "Mark's contributions to the campus are almost too numerous to mention. When people find out Mark is working on a problem, regardless of the problem, any concerns they have are immediately alleviated. He has earned the trust of the administration, his colleagues and, most importantly, the students."

Greg Garvey, professor of interactive digital design, has shared an office with Hoffman for seven years and has seen his generosity with students. Garvey said, "Whether working with a computer science major or a student enrolled in QU 101, Mark is truly an inspirational teacher and wise mentor."

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