After 30 years, professor still motivating students

Many students see professors as acquaintances they recognize for four months before forgetting them entirely. Engineering professor Dieter Schroder is not one of them.

Schroder, in his 30th year of teaching at ASU, is the longest standing tenure in the engineering department.  His specialty is semiconductor devices, more commonly identified as the chips found in most electronic devices.

“No matter where you turn, you are using semiconductor devices,” he said. “Everything that makes the world run today is based off of these little chips.”

Since his family emigrated from Germany, Schroder has been interested in engineering and received his doctorate degree from the University of Illinois. Long before higher education, Schroder learned the value of hard work as a delivery boy for five years, earning money for himself and his family.

“We came with very little,” he said.

Schroder's family moved to Canada when he was 16 on a sponsorship from a man his father knew.

In search of a change from the industrial field, Schroder came to ASU in 1981 and has never considered leaving. During his time with the University, Schroder has graduated 105 students with master’s degrees.

On the back of Schroder’s office door hangs the cap and gown he wears to various commencement ceremonies, where he participates in graduating the students who work closely with him.

One of his current graduate students, Pinakpani Nayak, said Schroder has been an “ideal” mentor to him in the almost five years they have known each other.  Nayak has taken four classes from Schroder and worked with him to publish his thesis for graduation.

Nayak said the best thing about Schroder is his helpfulness, patience and motivation, even to those who aren't his students.

“I don't think you'll get a better professor or adviser than him at ASU,” Nayak said.

Schroder said he loves the academic environment because of the freedom and the students that surround him.  Many students go on to work for companies and research labs that give Schroder funding to continue student educations.

“He won't take you unless he can fund you,” Nayak said.

Nayak said Schroder will patiently explain the same thing over and over until his students fully understand, using organization and discipline, right down to drawing his own slides.

Nayak joked he never knew an engineer could be such a good artist, after seeing Schroder's ink sketches on his office walls.

Schroder’s freedom in teaching gives his students the latitude to choose their topics.

“The hardest part is choosing,” Nayak said. “I learned from him that you have to be persistent in what you're doing, always.”

Schroder is one of the few professors who has been teaching longer than most of his students have been alive. Dragica Vasileska has known him as both a professor and a colleague, describing him as, “very knowledgeable, very systematic, very motivating.”

Schroder was Vasileska's professor during graduate school from 1991-1995. She said Schroder inspired many of her teaching and research techniques. When she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Schroder was a key resource for her.

“People like Dieter and my other colleagues have greatly helped me to almost completely recover,” Vasileska said.

Schroder's dedication goes beyond his students and fellow engineers to his family. A frame on his desk showcases a collage of photographs of his wife of 50 years, Beverley, his two sons and his five granddaughters.

“We are a very mixed family,” Schroder said. His wife came from Jamaica and his daughters-in-law are from Barbados and India.

Schroder enjoys traveling; he has been to 40 countries and 48 states. In the future, he plans on visiting the only two states he's missed: North and South Dakota.

“One day I'm going to fly to North Dakota, rent a car, and drive to South Dakota, just to say I've done it,” Schroder said with a laugh.

Reach the reporter at lbartoli@asu.edu

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