Someday came sooner rather than later for Andrew Dohm’s career in classroom

Published 9:00 am Monday, February 20, 2023

DOWAGIAC — It’s not like Andrew Dohm came to Southwestern Michigan College from Berrien Springs and never left.

From SMC the Professor of Physics and Math ventured north, all the way to Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula’s Houghton.

Coming from a self-reliant agricultural background, how things worked always fascinated Dohm, who pursued mechanical engineering and hired into the automotive industry with Chrysler.

Teaching hadn’t yet been considered by the man who again last summer organized the college’s fourth popular free STEM Camp for elementary students, thanks to Bosch Community Fund grants he secures.

Before the three days of camp concluded, he received a thank-you e-mail from a mom.

“I wanted to send a note of thanks to you and your team for the AMAZING experience my son shared yesterday at STEM Camp. His excitement was barely containable after the day’s events. He was so happy to share everything he learned that we sat on campus for about an hour so he could share all that he learned. The science kit he was awarded was the icing on the cake as he plans to ‘teach’ his grandparents all about STEM at their next visit.

“Thank you again, Mr. Dohm, and to all those who had a helping hand in orchestrating this program. Creating a safe space for shy/reserved children like my son to have fun and learn is worth more than money can buy. We look forward to the next program whenever/wherever it may be!”

“This is why we offer the camp,” he said. “To make an impact one student at a time!”

Dohm, the inaugural Outstanding Fulltime Faculty recipient in 2014, has been in SMC classrooms for 22 years. Few remain who remember his two years, 2003-05, as Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Dohm noticed one milestone ahead. SMC’s 56th Commencement falls on April 29, 2023 — 30 years to the day when he was a graduation speaker on behalf of the student body. He ran across his handwritten speech on notebook paper with the date, April 29, 1993, scrawled across the top.

“I guess my parents saved it,” he said. “It made me reflect on being here as a student and then transitioning out of industry to instruction. The evolution from being the freshman faculty member to one of the old guard. They had sports when I was a student, and now they’re back. And we have (residence halls). The student body has gotten a lot more diverse.”

Mechanical engineering’s early appeal

“Me and all but one of my buddies from high school enrolled here,” Dohm said. “One went into nursing, one into graphic arts. I hung my hat on mechanical engineering pretty early on. I loved to take things apart, put things together and fix things. I was always interested in how things worked — especially cars, robots and machinery. My mom had a cousin who had gone from here to Michigan Tech. We looked at Central Michigan University as well because they had a 2+2 with Michigan Tech, but they didn’t have engineering yet.”

“Starting here,” he said, “I stayed at home and kept my part-time job. I worked at Rood True Value Hardware in Berrien Springs. For a short time (Greg) had Rood Appliance here in town. I did one internship at Ford, and the next summer I did an internship at Chrysler. That turned into a full-time job offer in Auburn Hills in the engineering training program for two years. I rotated around the company in different manufacturing areas and they sent me back to school to get my master’s degree in engineering management. I was just getting ready to start my first full-time position there, and I decided I wanted to try to move back to this side of the state if I could find a comparable job — and I did, with Tenneco. I was working at their Goshen facility about nine months when corporate decided to close the plant. I made a great choice, giving up a great job at Chrysler Corp. They gave me a choice of moving to Elkhart, Ligonier, Ind., or Harrisburg, Pa., so I went to the Elkhart plant. I worked for Tenneco a total of two years.”

Baptism by fire

It occurred to Dohm that he had always liked the process of education and learning from faculty members who were degreed professionals who either taught part-time or who switched from industry to teaching.

“Those were the ones I thought were the best,” Dohm said. “I got in touch with Clyde Dalton, who remembered me as a student, and told him I was interested in teaching someday.”

Someday came sooner rather than later.

“He gave me pre-calculus in the summer to give it a shot,” Dohm said. “I guess you’d call it baptism by fire. I thought it was cool, figuring out what to say and how to say it, what problems to assign, quizzes. I was an engineer by day and teaching two or three nights a week. The other nights I was figuring out what my lesson would be. That kept me busy, but teaching that one summer, I really liked it. They wanted to hire another fulltime mathematician and (Dalton, chairman of the Math/Science department) encouraged me to apply.

“I interviewed with Diane Chaddock, the dean, and (future president and mathematician) Dr. David Mathews and Dr. Keith Howell, chairman of the Math/Science Department before his current position, Dean of Arts and Sciences. I had to present to all of them, and they offered me the job. That was the fall of 2000. Teaching had never crossed my mind until I was done with my bachelor’s and worked for four years in industry.”

“A lot of things were attractive to me in education,” said Dohm, who earned a second master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University rather than a doctorate. “The autonomy to design your class and to structure your class. Learning how to learn, then learning how to teach, was a big process. I enjoyed all of that, but early on I never thought about teaching. Nobody in my family was teachers.”

His wife, Nichole, teaches science at Edwardsburg Middle School. Their oldest son is graduating from Edwardsburg High School and is interested in studying computer engineering.

“My dad grew up on a farm, where you did everything yourself. You just figured it out,” Dohm said. “My dad repaired everything. He built his own house. He and I rebuilt a 1954 Ford pickup together from the ground up. That drew me to engineering, and I still do that today. I built two decks on my house and redid some plumbing and the floors. I enjoy that kind of work in conjunction with teaching. I dug into some good physics education research about what methods work better, which led me away from a lecture format to more of an active learning environment. A quote that stuck with me was, ‘Stop talking, they’re not listening.’”