Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award winner Joshua Tarbutton

Mechanical engineer Joshua Tarbutton doesn't see the classroom as a place just to convey information. He uses it to try to instill a credo in his students that will serve them the rest of their lives.

“I give a productivity lecture every semester,” Tarbutton says. “I summarize about 10 different books and extract the philosophy of work and the philosophy of excellence. I try to persuade them to adopt a craftsman mentality, which is taken from “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” by Cal Newport.”

Maturing into a master craftsman takes time and effort. Using the 10,000-hour rule popularized in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Tarbutton says that it takes about five years, working 40 hours a week, to achieve that kind of expertise.

He breaks that down for his students, showing them where they are now and where they should be once they graduate.

That provides them a framework for wanting to do the work that will bring academic and, eventually, career rewards. And in Tarbutton, they find a teacher most interested in helping them excel.

A former platoon sergeant who served a year in Iraq, Tarbutton developed a teaching philosophy that was shaped considerably by an Army motto: set your soldiers up for success.

He aims to do that for all of his students, recognizing that every course has students with a range of abilities, preparation and responsibilities awaiting them outside of the classroom. Each responds differently.

“I try to organize my class and my pace so that they constantly feel my hand on their back,” Tarbutton says. “Not only pushing them, but also guiding them.”

Tarbutton’s success teaching more than 500 students in just his first three-and-a-half years at Carolina earned him a 2016 Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award. It’s recognition that he’s achieving success in a field where, if mistakes are made, human lives can be at risk.

“Engineering is one of the disciplines where getting it right really matters. Because if they don’t, someone might actually die,” Tarbutton says. “It’s important for them to do things the right way.”