November 2013

CS Professor Nominated for Prestigious Award

Photo:David Bernstein

Looking back, many of us can think of at least one professor who has made a profound impact on our lives both in and out of the classroom. Through their life lessons and great advice, a professor can mean much more than simply the person hired to teach you. At JMU we are lucky to have many talented faculty members, such as Computer Science professor Dr. David Bernstein. Bernstein is one of eight JMU faculty members to be nominated for the annual State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV)’s Outstanding Faculty Award, the Commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s private and public colleges and universities.

The Outstanding Faculty Awards were designed by SCHEV to recognize superior accomplishments in teaching, research, and public service. According to the SCHEV website, since this award began in 1987, just over 300 faculty members have received this high honor. “It’s just amazing to get nominated for this award given the quality of the professors at JMU,” Bernstein said. “There are any number of people on campus who are worthy of this award so getting nominated, given that there are all these other people around, is pretty humbling.”

Bernstein is an interdisciplinary scholar, researcher, and professor who came to JMU in 1999 after being a member of the faculty of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University. Talking about his favorite part about teaching and researching at JMU compared to his previous work at private universities, Bernstein explained how much he enjoyed working with the undergraduate students. “There is a certain thrill of exposing people to research,” he said, “most undergraduates haven’t been through that experience, and putting them through that in whatever limited way you can is a lot of fun.”

There is also a significant difference in the focus on teaching and research between schools like Princeton and JMU. “At JMU, the students know that we are principally here to help them learn, and it makes for a different atmosphere compared to some research schools,” Bernstein explained. “When I was an undergraduate, I was mostly afraid of my professors. Here, I think the students understand that our doors are open, and that is quite nice.”

Though Bernstein describes himself as a traditional lecture professor, he also makes sure his classes are interesting as well as informative. Bernstein is known as a dynamic lecturer, using humor and examples from his own life to keep his audience engaged in complex topics that others could just as easily make dry. “I tell jokes, I make fun of the students, I make fun of myself, I throw things around, I do demonstrations,” he described. “My lectures are lectures, but they’re not as boring as they could be.” He also takes particular interest in integrating real world knowledge and experience into his lectures.

Bernstein has consistently received extraordinary teaching evaluations from his students at JMU. Before his time at JMU, he received the Princeton Engineering Council Excellence in Teaching Award in both 1995 and 1999. He was also given the highest teaching award at Princeton, the President’s Award, in 1999. Just last year, he was recognized as one of the “Best 300 Professors” by The Princeton Review and

Bernstein’s academic interests have focused on computational models and algorithms related to transportation systems. “I’m always doing work on GPS navigation systems,” he explained. His interest in In-Vehicle Computing and Transportation Modeling has led to an array of valuable research and published papers on improving Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation systems.  “We are used to thinking that GPS navigation systems are commodity products that everybody uses and that they work. There are actually a whole bunch of problems that are not yet solved.” For example, Bernstein has worked on helping GPS devices find the most efficient routes taking into account lower gas prices, placement of electric charges stations, or traffic. Bernstein also recently finished a graduate textbook with a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

As a school that prides itself on its teaching quality, JMU recognizes that college is, first and foremost, about educating students. With that in mind, it is no wonder that JMU is known for its incredibly talented faculty. Though it is difficult to narrow down the top eight professors out of so many, there is no question that Dr. Bernstein and the other seven professors nominated for this prestigious award are great representatives for all of the educators at JMU. The winners of the SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award will be recognized in February during a ceremony in Richmond.

The 2014 JMU nominations for the SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award are:

  • Dr. David Bernstein - professor of computer science

  • Dr. Brenda “B.J.” Bryson - professor of social work

  • Dr. Frances Flannery - associate professor of philosophy and religion

  • Dr. Daniel G. Gallagher - professor of management

  • Dr. Teresa Harris - professor of early, elementary and reading education

  • Dr. Brian T. Kaylor - assistant professor of communication studies

  • Dr. Gina MacDonald, professor of chemistry and biochemistry

  • Dr. Steven J. Whitmeyer, associate professor of geology and environmental science



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