I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Hansford Farris (Ph.D. EE ’58), University of Michigan professor emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who passed away December 7, 2014 at the age of 95.
Farris was my first engineering professor at U of M. I had him for an intro engineering course that was an option for first-semester freshman engineering students. This course combined instruction in computer programming with simple applications in engineering and physics. The course was a good idea in theory. It was supposed to show freshman how you could apply math, physics, and computers to solve real engineering problems.
In actuality, we got a wake-up call about how hard it could be to solve real engineering problems. I vividly recall my first quiz; I wasn’t sure I got any points at all. It turned out that I had scored 40 out of 100 in a class where the median was about 20.
Farris, of course, wasn’t happy about our low scores. But he didn’t blame us; he blamed himself for not communicating concepts clearly enough. My recollection is that he was a dedicated teacher. He redoubled his efforts at getting us to understand fundamental concepts.
He was eventually successful. Class scores improved markedly as the semester progressed. A more telling statistic from that class: Engineering has a reputation of washing out more than half of all students who start, with a very high infant mortality rate. But despite the rough start, I don’t think Farris lost a single student that first semester.
Farris’ obit on the U of M site is quite nice. It also mentions his HKN Outstanding Teacher Award in 1961-62, and his Amoco Outstanding Teacher Award in 1976.
The engineering profession has lost an outstanding educator.
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