First-Hand:History of an ASEE Fellow - Theodore Branoff

History of an ASEE Fellow

Theodore J. Branoff

As of (June 1, 2018)

Birthplace: Garden City, Michigan

Birth date: March 18, 1963


My paternal grandparents emigrated from Macedonia to the Detroit area during the 1920s. My maternal grandparents are from Scottish and German decent. My father was a quality control supervisor for Vishay-Measurements Group’s Micro Measurements division where he oversaw the inspection of strain gages. My mother was a hair stylist and worked out of her home shop.

I have been married to Darlene since July of 1986. She is a Zoology graduate of North Carolina State University, and worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a lean six sigma black belt until we moved to Illinois in 2014. We have two children: Eric Branoff is a mechanical engineering graduate of North Carolina State University and works as a manufacturing/design engineering for Tekni-Plex. Alex Branoff graduated from North Carolina State University in criminology with a minor in forensic science and is currently a quality systems analyst for Teleflex Medical.


From kindergarten through most of 9th grade I attended Garden City Public schools in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. My early career influences included my junior high industrial arts teacher, Mr. Wainwright, and a family friend, Tom Domagala. With the inspiration from these two gentlemen, I knew early on that I would be involved in some career related to engineering graphics. In March of 1978 we moved to Zebulon, North Carolina, where I finished my high school education. During my senior year, my high school drafting teacher, Earl Crumb, pushed me to a new level of understanding in engineering graphics. With his encouragement I applied to the mechanical engineering program at North Carolina State University.

Engineering was tough going for me. After two and a half years I realized I did not have a passion for what I was doing. I really enjoyed engineering statics, but I barely survived dynamics and differential equations. I transferred to technical education with an emphasis on graphic communications and found an area where I could excel. During my last semester I taught two sections of the introductory engineering graphics course at NC State. That was a great experience, but I never thought I would teach again. After completing my Bachelor of Science degree in 1985, I enrolled directly into a Master of Science program in occupational education, which I finished in 1989. I took one year off before being accepted into a Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Instruction. I finished that program in 1998.


During high school I worked for my dad’s company, Measurements Group, Inc., doing yard maintenance. In the summer of 1981 the drafting department hired me to do printed circuit board layouts of instrument devices in the strain gage industry. Most of my work was ink on Mylar, and it was my first time using a Leroy Lettering set. Gordie Dotterer was my boss. He also happened to be one of my best friend’s dad. The few times I did use vellum I can remember Gordie yelling at me for pressing down too much with my pencil. This happened a couple times. I lightened up some to make him happy. Later in college I seem to remember hearing someone say that those who press down hard while writing are very confident in what they are doing. I don’t think Gordie would appreciate that explanation.

After my sophomore year I interviewed and was hired at Siemens Switchgear Division in Lizard Lick, North Carolina. Bob Hagavik was my supervisor, and Audie Evans was our low-voltage group leader. The first thing they handed me was a stack of marked up blueprints, the original vellum drawings, and an electric eraser. That was pretty much my job that whole summer of 1983 – correcting drawings. Eventually they had enough confidence in me to let me do some original drawings. I worked there for three summers and part-time during school breaks. Bob was the first person I really watched managing a group of people. We had to meet deadlines, and Bob and Audie were masters at making sure we got things done without being too stressed out. Audie also made sure I understood the relationship between what we were doing and what was going on out on the manufacturing floor. I clearly remember a time when we were trying to meet a deadline, and the guys on the shop floor would not drill a hole until a drawing was updated. Audie took me out to the floor, we drilled the hole where it needed to be, and then we came back and changed the drawing. We met the deadline. I started working full-time for Siemens in January of 1986 after completing my undergraduate degree. Early in 1986 Siemens started transitioning some of its work from board drawing to an Applicon CAD system. Although I had used a couple of CAD programs during my undergraduate experience, this was the first time I used it in practice.

During the summer of 1986 I received a call from Joe Clary, head of the Department of Occupational Education at North Carolina State University. Dr. Clary wanted to know if I would be interested in being a visiting lecturer in the Graphic Communications program. At that time, the main mission of the program was to offer service courses to College of Engineering students (over 800 per semester). The position was a one-year appointment that more than likely would lead to more one-year appointments. It involved teaching 5 sections of the introductory engineering graphics course each semester. Since the salary was about what I was earning at Siemens, and I could take one graduate course each semester for $7.00, I took the position. I had twelve one-year appointments as a visiting lecturer until I finished my Ph.D. in 1998. During those years I took on some of the computer-aided design courses and, along with Eric Wiebe, helped move the curriculum to focus more on constraint-based modeling. In the fall of 1998 I started a tenure-track position in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education.

From 1998 to 2014 I took on more courses in Graphic Communications, including descriptive geometry, applied CAD and geometric controls, and the advanced CAD course. I also taught a graduate level instructional design course for Technology Education masters and doctoral students. I helped mentor to completion 11 Technology Education master’s students and 21 doctoral students in Technology Education and Adult and Higher Education. In addition, I served as coordinator of the Technology, Engineering, and Design Education program from 2012-2014. This position gave me opportunities to advise undergraduate students and gain much more appreciation for the teacher preparation process. I also worked to strengthen the relationship our program had with the College of Engineering, including participating in NSF proposals and serving on a joint College of Education / College of Engineering committee.

While also providing professional development workshops for North Carolina high school drafting teachers, during the late 1990s I started working with the North Carolina Industrial Extension Agency to offer Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing workshops for companies across the state. This opportunity not only helped to provide service to industry, it also helped me make important industry contacts and bring practical experiences back to the classroom.

During the summer of 2013 I was asked by my dean to serve a six month term as Interim Head of the Department of STEM Education at NC State. This experience gave me my first taste of administration. It was the first time I had to hire faculty, work with departmental budgets, make sure faculty submitted tenure and promotion documentation, and deal with minor personnel issues. This served as great preparation for the next adventure in my career.

In the fall of 2013 I received an email from a faculty member in the Department of Technology at Illinois State University who I had known through ASEE. They were searching for a new department chair, and he thought I might be interested in the position. I never thought I would leave NC State, but I was really impressed with the faculty and administration at Illinois State. I interviewed in early 2014 (feel free to ask me how Illinois weather made this a very interesting process) and started July 1, 2014. It was difficult to leave our children, colleagues, and friends, but it has provided many additional opportunities for growth.

Research and Scholarship

Most of my research has been in the areas of spatial visualization, online/hybrid instruction, and constraint-based modeling strategies. My dissertation was in the area of understanding spatial visualization in undergraduate engineering and education students. I examined how students’ ability to manipulate 3D information could be explained through Paavio’s dual coding theory. This research led to collaborations with other faculty in the United States and in Europe.

In 2003 we received a grant to develop an online master’s certificate in STEM community college teaching. Over the next three years we investigated and applied best practices in online instruction with STEM teachers in community colleges in North Carolina and South Carolina. That work led to examining hybrid instruction in engineering graphics courses. Through work with Eric Wiebe and graduate students at NC State, we researched how undergraduate students navigated online instructional materials.

Over the last six years I have focused my research on best practices in evaluating constraint-based CAD models. Through this work I have developed collaborations with Modris Dobelis (Riga Technical University, Latvia), Sheryl Sorby (University of Cincinnati), Mary Sadowski (Purdue University), Heidi Steinhauer (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University), Nancy Study (Penn State-Erie), and Kevin Devine and Josh Brown (Illinois State University).

In addition to the published scholarship that resulted from these projects, around 2013 I agreed to take over Interpreting Engineering Drawings by Jensen and Helsel. Although I had written textbook chapters in the past, this was the first time I had taken on an entire book. The previous authors had done some great work, so most of my efforts were on updating content to current standards.

Philosophy of Engineering Education

General Views

My philosophy of education borrows ideas from several areas: pragmatism and even existentialism. I tend to embrace information processing theory and Vygotsky’s cultural-historical learning theory. I believe as educators we should help students seek out processes and applications that work best to help them achieve desirable ends. Education should be about applying knowledge to solve problems that help to make this world a better place. My philosophy in the classroom may also depend on the type of class I am teaching. In a class with technical subject matter (especially constraint-based solid modeling or geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), I am pragmatic and tend to use behavioral objectives to make sure we cover the critical topics. In graduate courses, my philosophy may take on a more existentialist flavor. I personally have strong beliefs about how things should be done in the classroom, but I do not expect students to take on those beliefs. Each person should make their own meaning about the things they study.

The Learner

Students come into the classroom with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. In my engineering graphics classes, students have varied experiences with sketching, computer-aided design, and computer skills. Some learn best through lecture and others prefer to dig in and learn on their own. We as educators have to be able to recognize the differences between students and know how best to structure classroom activities to meet the needs of students. I accomplish this through several different methods. I collect background information on students with a student data sheet. This lets me know what kind of experiences the students have had relative to my course so that I can make adjustments in how I cover the material. I also try to talk with students during class to find out how things are going. I usually structure some time into each class to walk around and look at student work. This gives me and them a chance to ask questions and participate in informal conversation.

The learning process

I am a firm believer in having students participate in practical activities. I may have some material that I feel is very important and is most efficient to deliver through a lecture, but I try to keep this part of class to only 20 minutes. For instruction in constraint-based solid modeling, I feel the best way to increase a student’s understanding of the tool is to give a short demonstration by creating a solid model first, have them create the same model, and then have them create a different part that is similar. After my demonstration, I walk around the room and answer questions. When students submit constraint-based solid modeling assignments, I evaluate each student’s model(s) electronically and give them written feedback on corrections that need to be made. I then give them a chance to make the changes and explain them to me in class. I strongly feel this process helps them understand the software and how their work fits into the bigger picture of the design process.

In addition to the material I cover in class, I try to make additional materials available online. These materials include my lecture notes and other materials that may be useful (videos, etc.). I believe this helps students who need more than my in-class lectures and demonstrations.

ASEE Activities

Most of my involvement in ASEE has been through the Engineering Design Graphics Division. From 2002-2005 I was the Director of Professional and Technical Committees. In 2003 I took on the role of Co-Editor of the Engineering Design Graphics Journal with the responsibility of managing the paper review process. I was Vice-Chair of the EDGD from 2005-2006 and Chair from 2006-2007. I have been the Program Chair of the division since 2013 with the main responsibility of securing midyear conference sites and program chairs. I have also served on the Editorial Review Board for the Engineering Design Graphics Journal since 2006.

While at North Carolina State University I was also active in the Southeast Section of ASEE. I served as Chair of the Engineering Design Graphics Division of the section from 2005-2007, Chair of the Instructional Unit from 2008-2009, and Chair of the K-12 Division from 2010-2011.

Other Professional Activities

In 2007 I had the opportunity to give an invited talk at the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Japan Society for Geometry and Graphics in Tokyo. Along with invited speakers Hellmüth Stachel (University of Technology, Vienna) and Bingshu Tong (Tsinghua University), we presented “the state of graphics” from our respective countries. I developed some great international connections at that conference. The next year I was invited to give a talk at the 13th International Conference on Geometry and Graphics (ICGG) in Dresden, Germany. The ICGG conference is sponsored by the International Society for Geometry and Graphics (ISGG) and includes educators from around the globe who are passionate about theoretical research, applications of graphics in industry and design, and graphics education. In 2009 I was elected president of ISGG and served in that role until 2012. Like my colleagues in the Engineering Design Graphics Division of ASEE, the people who I have met through ISGG have been very special – and spatial, too!