Focus on Faculty

John R. Schramski

John R. Schramski (Photos by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

John R. Schramski, an associate professor in the College of Engineering with a courtesy appointment in the Odum School of Ecology, teaches courses that are technically rigorous but also contextually broad across many scientific disciplines in their applications.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida, a Master of Science in mechanical engineering through a joint program between General Electric Aircraft Engines and the University of Cincinnati, and a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Georgia. I am an associate professor of natural resources and energy systems in UGA’s College of Engineering. I also have a contributing faculty appointment in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I left a career in industry to join UGA in 1997 as a mechanical engineer in University Housing. Through UGA’s tuition assistance program, I earned my Ph.D. in ecology in 2006 and then joined the engineering faculty in 2007. The unique confluence of my academic degrees and work experience were a serendipitous fit for a fledgling engineering program orienting itself toward a cross-disciplinary approach.

What are your favorite courses and why?
I teach four thermodynamic courses that cover how to conceptualize and build mathematical models of thermodynamic systems in biology, nature, technology and civilization. I include the history of energy and mechanical innovation and use case studies derived from industry experience or from my research.

The courses are technically rigorous, so that my students can perform the calculations expected of them as engineers, but are also contextually very broad in their applications. The curriculum is designed to teach students the underlying physics, chemistry, biology and ecology of natural and human-made systems. This approach provides a rich combination of mass and energy models that we can numerically quantify, analyze and more closely comprehend.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
As a UGA Lilly Teaching Fellow and then as assistant director of the program, I engaged with fascinating UGA faculty and staff across all 17 schools and colleges. The intellect and breadth of those conversations were unbelievably formative for my teaching and research. Every single one of these conversations were highlights.

As a mechanical engineer and administrator in University Housing prior to 2007, I found the staff camaraderie and spirit second to none. The professionalism and expertise in the immense resident-life program, the challenges and technical solutions with facility maintenance and construction projects, and the interaction with student residents and leaders all generated many unforgettable highlights.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
I help to conceptualize and mathematically quantify materials (e.g., wood, plastic, air, water, cement, animals, soil, and trucks) and energy flows (e.g., biomass, oil, food, solar, ocean currents, natural gas, glycogen, wind, nuclear, and hydro) on multiple scales in nature, industry and civilization. These are essential skills for scientists and engineers in both industry and academia to guide the efficiency of engineering outcomes.

John R. Schramski talks with students Kimberly Avriaga and Davis Ray.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
The rigorous definitions and mathematics of thermodynamics are made easier when they are presented in real-world contexts. During my industry experience and in my research lab with graduate and undergraduate researchers, I have created dozens of models of mechanical, environmental and even social systems. I use these as in-class demonstrations to generate discussion and make the onerous but requisite mathematics more palatable. In return, these discussions generate new and interesting research ideas.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Confidence in the quality of their own observations and critical thinking skills.

Describe your ideal student.
In the classroom: not afraid of work.

In research: independently motivated, not afraid to take risks, and patient.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is …
I like to attend lectures in the UGA Chapel. The Chapel tends to reboot and remind me that we are at an institution of higher learning. A few years ago, I was invited to present my research to the visiting Foundation Fellow candidates and their families in the Chapel. The room was full, and the experience really emphasized the institution’s passion for learning and exploration.

Additionally, my family and I like to get takeout and relax at Herty Field. The renovations in 2013 made this a nice location on campus, and with all the recent development downtown, it is nice to have this space.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to …
I like to work crossword puzzles, work on my property, play video games and travel. I have also kept honey bees for over 20 years.

Community/civic involvement includes …
I always gravitate to assistance within the Clarke County public schools. Over the years I have volunteered with the Hilsman Middle School Mathcounts team and the Cedar Shoals High School cross country, softball and soccer programs.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I suppose this changes as I age and with my experiences. I have fond memories of my childhood and my summers as a teen, so the ones that stick out to me are the ones from that time. Prior to the internet, books and movies were how we kids began piecing together facts and fiction. For these reasons, this is perhaps a cliché answer, but it’s really hard to top Holden Caulfield. I can remember the exact weekend, room and couch when I read “Catcher in the Rye.”

Also, as I grew up in South Florida, “Jaws” was particularly impactful. To this day, I still see a shadow behind me when I swim.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
I spent two days on Sapelo Island in 2010 with my Lilly Teaching Fellows cohort and the director and assistant director of the program, Jean Martin-Williams and Ron Walcott, respectively. Sapelo Island is remote island off the coast of southern Georgia, accessible only by boat. With the closest of arts, humanities and sciences colleagues, the technology-free retreat was a rich multi-perspective dive into the science of teaching and learning. Those conversations remain the most formative and important in establishing my teaching methods. I later won the Richard B. Russell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for the methods I formalized on this trip.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It would be really good for the environment, for our communities, and for our families if we collectively agreed to slow down. Maybe we should start today at 5 p.m.?