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CCSU Professors

James DeLaura

James DeLaura
Teaching Technology with Humor and Passion

 

To expand learning beyond School of Technology classrooms into the industrial world here and abroad is a passion for Dr. James DeLaura, professor and chair of the Technology Education Department. And he does so with an irrepressible sense of fun even as he delivers pointed lessons.

Discussing advanced quality systems, he confides to students, “I’m not making this up. I went to conduct a quality seminar on a consulting job, and the factory owner stood up before his employees and pounded his fist on a table. He said, ‘I’m paying good money for this training, and if you don’t learn, I’m going to let you people go.’” DeLaura raises an eyebrow and asks, “How’s that attitude different from theories we’ve been studying?” A student, barely able to contain his incredulity, exclaims, “We’ve been taught to motivate employees, encourage them with positive feedback so they feel good about themselves and the company, not deflate them with threats of being fired!” DeLaura claps his hands together, “Exactly! The employees at this company were so intimidated that when an error occurred and small manufactured parts were incorrectly made, they were terrified and flushed the defectives down the toilet.” He pauses for full effect as the class waits in suspense. “A plumber had to be called to unclog the toilet.” The class bursts into laughter

For some 28 years at Central, DeLaura has laced humor with hard-edged, practical concepts. “He opens our eyes through his real-world stories combined with a sharp knowledge of current trends in technology and engineering,” states Behn Sikora, a technology education ’03 grad, who now teaches technology at Hartford Public High School. DeLaura maintains close ties to Connecticut industry through consulting at the University’s Institute of Technology & Business Development in New Britain. He’s taught quality management and advanced quality systems as a Certified Instructor for the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group. His expertise on quality issues—he is a Certified Manufacturing Engineer—has taken him to Hong Kong, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

“I participated in an AID grant with Poland,” says DeLaura. “This spring break I’m taking a group of our students to Wroclaw Politechnika so they can better understand Polish history and technology. That’s what I’m all about, trying to open up the Central experience beyond Connecticut.” On a field study to Agrigento, Sicily, his students puzzled out how temples were constructed. Researching ways huge pillars were lifted to the top of a Greek temple, the students recreated a wooden model now on display in the School of Technology.

DeLaura urges technology students, who often are grounded in practicalities, to seek cultural enlightenment. He recalls, “I told the Sicily group, ‘for the rest of your life, you’ll say I was there looking at Mt. Aetna, and two months later it blew its top. Tell me that’s not exciting.’” Sikora, who had rarely ventured beyond his hometown of Wethersfield, was motivated after his Sicily trip with DeLaura to select a second study abroad at the Bolton Institute in England. Now he observes, “I want the kids I teach at Hartford High to think outside their immediate neighborhood, see the big picture. It’s important, I tell them, to know that Asians are building skyscrapers. Their economy is prospering, and there’s competition for Americans. We must study science and technology and talk to people with different accents in the global community.”

Supervising Tomorrow’s Teachers

His role supervising student teachers is “returning me to my roots,” says DeLaura, who taught industrial arts in Wethersfield after having earned bachelor’s, ’67, and master’s, ’70, degrees in industrial technology from Central and then a doctorate in education, ’74, from the University of Northern Colorado. A Rocky Hill native, DeLaura muses, “I didn’t think I’d return to this area after teaching at Southeastern Louisiana University, but I did in 1976.” Until 2003, he was a professor in the Department of Manufacturing and Construction Management.

Today as Technology Education chair, he says the department is “reshaping and revitalizing the curriculum to include latest methods of technology instruction for the 21st century.” Technology education, he believes, is an evolving area, and more college-bound high schoolers are seeking “engineering-type experiences.” Although at a formative stage, a program is underway in his department “to bring high school students to our campus, exposing them to engineering concepts in robotics, bridge building, and digital electronics, and in turn to bring these concepts to classrooms where our Central students are doing teacher training.” DeLaura and colleague Dr. Michael Vincenti, associate professor of manufacturing and construction management, presented this idea to the International Technology Education Association Conference this past spring.

Technology education majors hone their skills and expand career opportunities though involvement in various competitions. This February, DeLaura will take a “busload of majors to the Technology Association Collegiate Competition in Virginia Beach to face off with 14 other institutions.” Future teachers are getting high school students excited about learning by participating in the Electrathon, a competition for high school students in the Northeast. “Our students manage electric vehicle race events at Lime Rock Park in Falls Village,” explains DeLaura. Central students also assist in running and judging the LEGO robotics competition for middle schoolers.

On the national scene DeLaura was awarded a Distinguished Service Citation from the Board of Directors of Epsilon Pi Tau, the international honors society for technology education for “his superb teaching of pre-college and university levels, meaningful research, outstanding administrative leadership, and significant contributions to his profession.” He was also named NAIT Region 1 Outstanding Professor of the Year in 1995.

Christine Zakrzewski, who holds a master’s in technology education from Central and is working toward teacher certification, lauds DeLaura. “He’s straightforward, says it like it is, and through brainstorming helped me decide on a topic for the huge undertaking of a capstone project.”

Indeed, DeLaura with his comfortable style has mentored scores of students, guiding them with his own personal philosophy—“Choose something you love to do, be good at it, and do it with enthusiasm.”

— Geri Radacsi

 

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