College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Joel Greenstein wins Paul M. Fitts Education Award


Joel Greenstein wins Paul M. Fitts Education Award

Kevin Juang said that students chose his Ph.D. advisor, Joel Greenstein, as Clemson University’s industrial engineering Professor of the Year so many times that the honor picked up a colloquial nickname, the “Joel Greenstein Award.”

“In fact, an informal rule was enacted, placing a limit of three consecutive years that any one person can receive the honor,” Juang said. “I can definitely say that Joel has fundamentally changed my understanding of human factors and user-centered design, and the same holds true for countless others.”

Greenstein was an associate professor when he retired in 2017, taking him out of the running for another Professor of the Year winning streak in the Department of Industrial Engineering. But his influence, which continues to ripple through business and higher education, has propelled him to another honor.

This time it’s the Paul M. Fitts Education Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 

“This is a really nice coda on my career,” Greenstein said. “It was really a thrill to receive it. I am grateful to Kapil, my former students and my colleagues for putting the nomination together.”

Kapil Chalil Madathil, the Wilfred P. and Helen S. Tiencken Assistant Professor of Civil and Industrial Engineering, organized the nomination with the support of several of Greenstein’s former students and colleagues.

Many of Greenstein’s former students have gone on to careers with some of the nation’s top companies and public agencies, ranging from Amazon and AstraZeneca to Clemson University and TD Bank.

They described him as a hard-working professor and compassionate mentor who was skilled at bringing real-world examples to the classroom.

Melroy E. D’Souza, who received a Ph.D. after studying under Greenstein, is now principal/director–UX Research at Microsoft.

“Dr. Greenstein  is one of a rare breed of educators that embodies everything a great teacher should be,” D’Souza said. “He is knowledgeable, caring and ethical, and he has a genuine desire to see all his students succeed.”

Marlena Fraune, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at New Mexico State University, said that she has shaped her mentoring style after the apprenticeship model she learned from Greenstein.

“With Dr. Greenstein as a role model, eight of my undergraduate students have co-authored research papers with me, three of whom were first authors,” she said. “My first graduate student just achieved his first-author publication this month – only six months after beginning the program. My students have gone on to highly respected graduate programs and even user experience positions at companies such as Toyota Research Institute.”

Greenstein received a Master of Science from Stanford University in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He was an assistant professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for six years before joining Clemson in 1985. 

Richard Tyrrell, a Clemson University psychology professor, called Greenstein a “master teacher” who wasn’t the type of professor to talk through the same set of PowerPoint slides every semester. He instead relied heavily on group projects that attacked real-world problems experienced by local customers.  

Greenstein was constantly on the hunt for human-factors problems for his students to solve.

“He collects bad interfaces like stamp collectors collect stamps, except he donates the problems to his teams of students,” Tyrrell said. “Everybody wins when students learn how to work together to apply human-factors principles to solve real problems. But it sure isn’t the easiest way to teach. Joel has been successful in this domain precisely because he has always invested so much energy and expertise in his students. I envy both his commitment and his energy.”

Greenstein said that he gave his courses structure so his students would know what to expect, he remembered to show empathy to his students, and he engaged with the material he was teaching.

“I made sure that I looked for all the reasons why what I was teaching was important, even if I was given a course to teach that was not my preference or that I was not an expert in,” he said. 

Genevieve Arnaut, who was a graduate student under Greenstein, said that he walked the line between providing honest feedback while remaining compassionate. And he fostered autonomy in his students while providing guidance.

One aspect of his mentoring deserves special notice, Arnaut said.

“Though it may not be obvious in this day and age, the supportive mentoring he provided to me as a female graduate student in an engineering department in the 1980s was by no means typical,” said Arnaut,  director of clinical training of the Ph.D. program at Palo Alto University.

“I remain grateful to this day for the fact that Dr. Greenstein treated me as a student with skill and potential commensurate to that of my male peers.”

Kristin Horan said that she was a student when Greenstein served as her advisor in an undergraduate summer research program. She evaluated text- and image-based CAPTCHAs and presented her results at the User Experience Professionals Association’s International Conference and published her findings in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics.

“Dr. Greenstein showed genuine interest in preparing me for graduate school and provided the support and guidance necessary for me to take my first step in my academic career,” said Horan, who is now an assistant professor of industrial organizational psychology at the University of Central Florida.

Juang said that Greenstein was so passionate, he would often lose track of time and keep teaching past the end of class. While Greenstein was known as a tough professor, he had his students’ best interests in mind, said Juang, who is now user principal UX researcher (lead for strategic research) at Truist Financial.

“Joel,” he said, “is quite plainly the greatest man I personally know.”

Greenstein, who still lives in Clemson, said that he has stayed active in retirement. He is learning to play guitar, serving as chair of the Clemson University Emeritus College Advisory Board and reveling in the career success of his three grown children, Claire, Seth and Paul.

“I am very proud of them,” he said. “I am a little sad that none of them chose to major in engineering but a little smug that two have ‘engineer’ in their job titles.”

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