Where the rubber hits the road: Pragmatism in the classroom with Dr. Chris Foreman

November 13th, 2017

The road to teaching in the Speed School has been long and well earned for Dr. Chris Foreman, an alumni. A native of Owensboro, KY, Foreman moved here for school and opportunity, studying electrical and computer engineering between the early-90s through 2008. Foreman took time in between his studies to work in industrial control systems, first at Westinghouse in Chicago, and later at Synergy, which became Duke Energy, granting him experience in the field, which he has since brought to the classroom.

“The class that I have now is first semester freshman. Because engineering education has in mind preparing students for the workforce, I know the direction you need to be steered in. When we try to do things like teams, I know how that looks in the corporate. Trying to help with team dynamics. Trying to demonstrate the usefulness of a lot of this. EF teaches a lot of math, which can kind of be abstract. So how does that work in the industry? I know that,” says Foreman.

In the classroom, he works to instill that real world pragmatism into the problems that he assigns, using context to show what a wrong solution might result in. For Foreman, it’s about finding not only the easiest path to a solution, but the most utilitarian to the needs of the job.

He explains of one such trigonometry problem he assigns, “they have really complex equations and they have to simplify them. The idea of being able to use the algebra to simplify might be quicker than a computer. A lot of them will either have direct or indirect coding experience. It helps in general to just say this is how this can be used. Here is how you would simplify something.”

Continuing he adds, “If I mentor projects, we try to make that very close to how that’s run in industry. How to balance budgets, how to procure materials, that’s the kind of thing that you learn.

He has parlayed his educational and industrial background into his current research on industrial control systems and cybersecurity. He explains of his ongoing efforts, “I’m working on a project at the moment still funded by Purdue. That project is in cybersecurity where I’m using a lot of on-chip micro-architecture. Instead of having software, you have hardware on a chip. Those are debugging tools that companies use.”

Not only is Foreman pleased to land a position at his alma mater, but he enjoys the change in pace that comes with it. He explains, “What I like about academia, is it’s a flexible schedule, and what you do. You can choose what types of things you research. If you have an idea for a course, you can go for it. In the corporate world, you take a position and you do that. In academia you have a lot of flexibility.”

Foreman enjoys the downtime afforded by that flexibility with his wife, traveling when possible. He admits, “I like traveling. I’ve been to Europe a few times. I actually like sports cars. I do a lot of the track events, where you would drive on it. I have a Porsche that I would take to those events.”