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Celebrating 75 years of Vision: Israel Urieli reflects

Peter Shooner and Courtney Kessler | May 4, 2010

Celebrating 75 years of Vision: Israel Urieli reflects

Peter Shooner and Courtney Kessler | May 4, 2010

This is the fifth in a series of Russ College faculty profiles, in celebration of the Russ College's 75th anniversary (1935-2010).

Israel Urieli affects the lives of every student he comes in contact with through his own teaching, but his legacy will remain in the innovative teaching techniques he established at the Russ College.
Urieli, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, has been developing online-based learning resources since 1990. Originally used to supplement textbooks, he recently developed a completely online learning resource independent of any textbook – and available to students at no cost.

It was 1982 when Urieli came to Athens from Israel, to spend a sabbatical at Sunpower, Inc., a company with a worldwide reputation in the development of Stirling cycle heat engines – Urieli’s area of research at the time. Since its founding in 1974 by former Ohio University professor William T. Bealie, Sunpower has become a world leader in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly machines for power generation and cooling.

During his time there, Urieli also taught part-time at Ohio University, but after spending two years with the company, he decided that a career in teaching would be his next move. “It was natural for me to join the university full time,” he says. 

Initially, Urieli continued his doctoral research on analyzing, simulating, and building Stirling cycle machines -- but he soon realized his interests had changed and thus began researching new teaching techniques. 

His Web resource, “Engineering Thermodynamics – A Graphical Approach,” completed in 2009, is a two-course sequence designed for mechanical engineering majors, but can be used for independent study. Urieli is able to make lessons more accurate and visually interesting by using two-dimensional plots and synthesizing complete systems. 

Mechanical Engineering Chair Greg Kremer says Urieli is as known for his out-of-class antics as he is for his passionate teaching. “He developed a fascination with water rockets after using them for an example in class, and now every time we have a student-faculty gathering, there’s a chance he will do a rocket launch” Kremer explains. “He also loves to demonstrate a free-piston Stirling Engine by lighting some fuel and setting the engine on a table to ‘dance’ as the piston oscillates. Of course, he has to join in and dance around the table for the full effect.”

Urieli can also be spotted cruising campus on unique-looking bicycles – ones he has built himself to suit various needs. “He’s been doing it so long it’s impossible to imagine him on a standard bike,” Kremer notes.

Before he leaves Ohio University, he hopes to see his colleagues follow his example in decreasing the use of textbooks by taking advantage of online resources. Even so, he doesn’t list his pedagogical accomplishments among his most cherished.

“In 1989, my youngest son graduated from Athens High School on the same weekend that my wife graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine,” he boasts. “Subsequently, all three of my children received undergraduate and graduate education at Ohio University.” 

Urieli merits his accomplishments to the liberties he has enjoyed at the Russ College. “In the Russ College, I feel that the academic freedom that we enjoy is a gift,” he says.  

Urieli was recognized for his teaching efforts in 2008 with the Russ Teaching Award for outstanding teaching and advising. The recipient is chosen by current students.

“He keeps chocolate chip cookies in his office, so when any of his advisees come to get advice they also get a cookie,” Kremer explains. “He’s the kind of person and teacher that you hope will be around forever.”