The following is an excerpt.
What qualities make students honour the same professor again and again for being the best educator? Meet Arild Holm Clausen.
Humanity is a fascinating conglomerate. Hardly a day passes at SFI CASA without Director Magnus Langseth’s laughter echoing through the corridors. Professor Holm Clausen is another kind of guy. Probably just as happy, just more low-key.
Bear in mind: low-key is not the same as vague. In Professor Holm Clausen’s case, rather the opposite. The students put it like this:
“He goes through the curriculum in an exceptionally orderly and structured manner. He is incredibly engaging, always well prepared. A full auditorium at 8.15 every Friday morning is a good indication that he gets it right.
He is very knowledgeable in his field, yet humble and interested in his students. He possesses a unique ability to meet us at our own level and he makes time to help us with our preparations although it is not his primary task.”
This abstract from two different occasions when he was voted best educator speaks for itself. What does the professor say? “I always liked teaching.” Simple as that.
The good chemistry with the students was further illustrated in 2013, when he was appointed regent of the Civil Engineering Students Association “Hennes Majestet Aarhønen” – “Her Majesty the Grey Hen” at its centenary celebration. The name Aarhønen stems from an incident in 1913 when a grey hen crashed through a window and landed in a lecture hall in NTNU’s main building. Professor Holm Clausen remains regent, a position with some influence: he chairs the committee that deals with the association’s financial reserves, currently amounting to more than NOK 1 000 000. He also has the authority to fire the board if they do something really stupid.
Like several of his colleagues, Arild Holm Clausen came to the SIMLab research group with a little help from the army and SIMLab “Godfather” Arnfinn Jenssen. Magnus Langseth recruited him along with present professor colleague Tore Børvik to take his military service in SIMLab in 1992.
After dealing with marine structures for his master’s degree, he joined SIMLab’s grand old man Per Kristian Larsen as an assistant in the course on steel structures during his PhD years.
“I was in great doubt about my future career after defending my degree in 1999,” he confesses. Luckily, for SIMLab and his students, he decided to continue. In 2003 he became associate professor and from 2007 a full professor.
As it is, no one gets to be a professor for being a good educator alone. High quality research is another prerequisite.
In Norwegian, the word potato may be used as a term for someone who enjoys and is good at a great variety of tasks. Arild Holm Clausen thrives as potato.
“I enjoy knowing something about many different topics. Polymers and steels have diametrically opposite properties. I like working with both materials,” he says.
At present, he heads SFI CASA’s Polymer Programme, which is sort of virgin territory at SIMLab. It started very carefully in 2005 with initial interest from SFI SIMLab partners Statoil and Plastal. They asked about modelling of polymers in numerical simulations.
“At the time we knew next to nothing about the material. Magnus Langseth challenged me to look into it,” Holm Clausen remembers.
He set out with only one PhD candidate in 2007 and another one from 2008. With time, the number of PhD candidates within the field has increased, and so has partner interest. Renault’s François Moussy came in early, then Dominic Seibert from Audi and Ernesto Mottola from Toyota. Today, Lars Greve from VW/Audi and Statoil’s Mario Polanco-Loria are among the more active partner representatives. Most of the partners follow the programme closely.
As with his teaching approach, Arild Holm Clausen’s structured approach is clearly visible. Since 2011, he has organized annual technical meetings with the partners.
“We work closely with the partners. Many of them are very competent and we have had many a good discussion. They have also been very patient. They know that research takes time,” he says.
From the outset, material models were sought after. Luckily, SFI CASA has modelling expert Odd Sture Hopperstad on board. Lately, there has been increased interest in joining of dissimilar materials, possibly involving polymers of some kind. What the future holds, nobody knows.