Between meeting with students on the patio outside his office, building caskets for members of his church and finding props to bring to his construction management classes, assistant professor Mike O’Reilly finds little time to relax.
For the past 14 years at Colorado State University, O’Reilly has gained popularity amongst students in his Structures 1 and 2 classes. In spring 2014, the Alumni Association awarded O’Reilly one of six best teachers.
O’Reilly’s said he considers his classes challenging but strives to teach difficult concepts in accessible ways.
“I enjoy taking complex, structural concepts and simplifying them and making them understandable to the students,” O’Reilly said.
Owen Thurston, a senior construction management major, said he feels that O’Reilly’s teaching style makes a difficult subject enjoyable.
“He uses a lot of examples and props,” Thurston said. “He uses smaller replicas of what he’s talking about. For example, he’ll bring out a mini bridge if we’re talking about bridges … He wants us to visualize everything. This makes us engaged in the lecture.”
Throughout his career as both an engineer and professor, O’Reilly has collected props to use during his lectures. Junior construction management major Kyle Metzgersaid that O’Reilly uses his past experience outside of the classroom to teach the material.
“He knows how to explain it so kids understand,” Metzger said. “Before kids even ask their questions, he knows what he needs to explain and how to explain it in a way that we understand easily.”
O’Reilly said he treats his students like equals, which is why he believes he received the teacher of the year award.
“I was in their shoes once, and I remember how confusing it was for me,” O’Reilly said. “I try to make it less confusing for them.”
Thurston said he appreciates O’Reilly’s hard-working, supportive style.
“He’s very excited about what he does,” Thurston said. “He has high energy and consistency. How he teaches is what makes a lot of students be engaged in class and do well … He’ll tell stories when he needs to. If a topic has something to do with a past job that he’s done, he’ll bring that up. I enjoy learning from him.”
O’Reilly said his favorite part of teaching is interacting with students, especially during office hours, where they sit outside his office on the patio table that he built himself.
“He enjoys being one on one a lot,” Thurston said. “He’s very helpful. He‘ll answer any questions you may or have or concerns. He’ll work with you to make sure you understand what’s going on in his class. He wants you to do well, and he strives for student success.”
Collegian Diversity Beat Reporter Hannah Ditzenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @h_ditzenberger.