Extraordinary Teachers

Elliot Soloway

TALENT ATTRACTION

Position: Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, School fo Information, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and School of Education
Institution: University of Michigan
Degree: University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Ph.D.
Interests: Artificial intelligence and software engineering, and education

 

 “Elliot is passionate about his students,”  said Amy Klinke, University of Michigan.

Elliot Soloway is an impressive teacher. A list of his former students reads like a who’s who compilation, including – Larry Page, cofounder of Google; Tony Fadell, leader of a team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone, and many more.

For more than 26 years, Soloway has been teaching at the University of Michigan. He was awarded the university’s Golden Apple Teaching Award in 2001, the only Golden Apple Award winner in the College of Engineering.

 

“Up until my class, most students are only required to do assignments for class. The teacher says ‘Do X’ and they ‘Do X.’ In my class, I ask them, ‘What do you want to do? What do you want to build?’ They haven’t had an opportunity up until now, to build anything.”

A few years ago, Soloway built up a class around entrepreneurship wherein students in the class identify a need, then design a mobile app that addresses that need. One of his criteria for receiving an A is for the students to publish their mobile app. “They may not be the greatest pieces of software ever created, but they’re something.”

“Larry (Page) was an undergrad when he took my projects class,” Soloway said. “It was the early days of the handheld computers and Palm Pilots. Larry wanted to do a project and I remember saying ‘Larry, I don’t know if you can do that.’ Larry responded saying ‘I don’t know either, but I’m going to give it a try.’ I think that’s really an important characteristic of some young folks who are willing to take a risk.”

“I think what makes him such an excellent teacher is that he wants them to have a positive learning experience,” said Amy Klinke of the University of Michigan Business Engagement Center and Center for Entrepreneurship. “They have to develop a mobile app. But he cares that they don’t just develop an app – he wants them to work on projects that have meaningful implications. He really wants them to get fired up and he creates a way for all of his students to have this kind of experience.”