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Real world education

Educator of the Year

Robert Lemke (Photo submitted by the Milwaukee School of Engineering)

When Associate Professor Bob Lemke prepares his Milwaukee School of Engineering students for national design-build competitions, he is thinking far beyond the contest boundaries.

Lemke has coached MSOE students to place at the Associated General Contractors of America National Student Championship more than any other university in the country, but he’s also prepared them to excel long after graduation, said former student Jamie John, a 2009 MSOE graduate.

For nearly 20 years, Lemke has taught students in architectural engineering and building construction at MSOE. His instruction often goes beyond the textbook and draws from Lemke’s work as an architect, John said.

“He has real-world experience, which is helpful because he’s pretty honest during class about how you’re supposed to do it and other ways it can be done,” said John, a senior technician with Excel Engineering Inc., Fond du Lac.

The lengths to which Lemke prepares students has caught the attention of AGC competition judges, who learned from grateful former students about Lemke’s teaching techniques, said Bill Nash, a competition judge who began recruiting at MSOE after seeing Lemke’s students in action.

“They realize how well he has prepared them for the professional world,” Nash said. “They’re working for general contractors. They’re working for design-builders. And they respect him for preparing them for that.”

Lemke often prepares students for competition and beyond by setting forth engineering problems and requiring students give a professional-caliber presentation of their solutions and proposals. Peppering his instruction are a collection of amusing catchphrases well-known among students, John said.

“‘Make sure to reach out and grab the low-hanging fruit’ was one of his,” John said. “‘The hay is in the barn.’ And something about a jar of pickles … .”

The quirky approach seems to work well, as Lemke’s design-build teams have won six national AGC championships and placed eight times.

“His ability to prepare his team for the interviews was so good, it was almost unfair,” said Greg Gidez, another competition judge.

Coaches weren’t allowed to talk to their students once competition began, but Lemke’s influence was always evident throughout, Gidez said.

“They were well-organized. They were focused. They had a goal in mind,” he said of Lemke’s student competitors. “And they were thinking about the presentation at the beginning of the process, instead of coming up with a solution and then thinking about the presentation.”

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