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Teaching with Style

Spring 2012 | By Linda Thomas Terhune. Photo by Mark Simons.

As a costume designer, Joel Ebarb knows a lot about style. He also knows the vital importance of substance.

For Ebarb, chair of the Department of Theatre in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts, substance is the key to success as a teacher — substance in the material presented and in the professor's character. Without it, students immediately smell a fraud, he says, and they don't like it. With it, they engage.

And it is clear that Ebarb is engaging. So much so that the University rewarded him in May 2011 with its highest teaching recognition, an Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in memory of Charles B. Murphy.

"Professor Ebarb was always so lively and entertaining. You can see that he is passionate about his discipline. He never just lectured; he always interacted with the students," says Silvia Son, a junior in mass communication who took his "History of Social Dress" course.

Ebarb set out to be a teacher during his undergraduate days in English at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He came to Purdue in 1997 as manager of the costume shop and soon took on teaching duties. He teaches large classes like "Theater Appreciation," which draws over 200 students. And he teaches small classes, like "Period Styles," a graduate seminar. Regardless of the size of his audience, his approach is the same.

"I look at teaching a lecture as putting on a show," says Ebarb, who on this day is dressed with flair and style in a beautifully fitted blue blazer, crisp dress shirt, and natty bow tie. "It can’t just be edu-tainment; you do have to keep the students' attention. It's like doing a play. A good teacher draws energy from the class."

"Attending Professor Ebarb's class means participating in a celebration of knowledge. It's not a matter of watching him; it's a total interaction," says Katie Morrison, an art history major who studied with Ebarb. "He encourages thoughtful, laid-back, and often hilarious discussion. I kept my class notebook because of Professor Ebarb's fantastic one-liners. But more importantly, he is genuinely interested in all his students and in all of our perspectives."

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