Friday, March 22

Renaissance man

A well-rounded person should find the right balance of social and scholarly experience; Dario Nardi has

  NICOLE MILLER/Daily Bruin Dario Nardi, a
30-year-old assistant professor in the math department, is known
for his unconventional, student-centered teaching style.

By Stella Chu

Daily Bruin Contributor

Although surfing, listening to rave music and playing the guitar
may seem to be the hobbies of a typical college student,
thirty-year-old Dario Nardi, adjunct assistant professor in the
math department’s Program in Computing, also enjoys the same

Besides being an avid surfer, he also performs solo guitar acts
with his students at the Westwood Brewing Company.

Some of Nardi’s students said they could relate more to
him on a personal level because of his openness to young

“Professor Nardi doesn’t look like other
professors,”Â said former math/applied science student
Robert Kaplinsky. “He looks like us.

“One day he came into class to announce he was getting his
long hair chopped and asked for suggestions,” Kaplinsky

In addition to teaching PIC courses, Nardi also teaches Honors
Collegium courses, which in the past have included topics like
Artificial Intelligence: People as Machines, Machines as People. He
is currently completing his third book, which deals with
organizational psychology and career counseling.

Nardi is not your typical professor.  Having called Japan
his home for a few years, Nardi also lived in Barbados for a large
portion of his life.

“I lived right on the beach in Barbados as a kid,”
Nardi said. “And memories of this time have had a big
impact on my life.”

Even though he studied aerospace engineering as a USC
undergraduate Nardi decided to study art history while he was in

There he was exposed to a liberal Japanese college life, an
experience that inspired him to create a learning environment where
labs and projects prevailed over lectures.

“Traveling abroad, having lived in two very different
cultures, and learning a foreign language has been very
eye-opening,” Nardi said.

He said that this blend of science and cultural backgrounds have
taught him that people can find equal interest in both science and

“Reading good books and taking in some educational TV like
the History Channel is a wonderful way to learn,” he
continued. “I always thought that Carl Sagan was a
wonderful example of someone who brought science to the
masses,” he added, referring to the scientist as an

The well-balanced individual, the one who can find the perfect
mix of scholastics and cultural interaction leads a more meaningful
life, he said.

“I believe being well-rounded is more important, and more
rewarding, than just academics or socializing by itself,”
Nardi said. “I believe college is just as much about social
experience as it is academics.”

According to former cognitive science student Nick Prager,
students feel more comfortable around Nardi because he incorporated
this kind of casual atmosphere into his classes.

“What struck me the most about Dario was that he was more
like a student than a professor and I’ve kept in contact with
him for that very reason,” he said. “No one calls
him “˜Professor Nardi,’ just Dario.”

In college, Nardi had taken courses where professors only gave
lectures. This lack of interaction spurred him to avoid traditional
classroom settings, where lecture dominates discussion.

His Honors Collegium class’ small size and curriculum
flexibility catered to his desire for more student interaction,
more student and teacher interaction, as well as more freedom in
creating the various student activities, Nardi said.

“Students had more interaction and were therefore more
confident,” said Nardi. “There are activities, so
it’s not just lecture.”

According to Nardi, many professors become alienated from their
classes, choosing only to lecture without hearing any student

“Some professors have the attitude that it is the teaching
material that is important,” he said. “What’s
important is what they learn.”

To remedy this feeling of distance, Nardi secured even more
student interaction by setting aside discussion time during lecture

“Many students have busy lives, and I found that it was
difficult for a complete group to meet outside of class,” he
said. “So I set aside time within class.”

Despite his efforts to become closer to his students, Nardi said
five to ten percent of the students are not comfortable with his
method of teaching.

“Some students want a more step by step approach,”
said Nardi. “But that’s my teaching style and
students need to understand their own learning style.”

Most students, however, preferred his stressing the importance
of student interaction within the scholastics of the course, Nardi

“The Honors Collegium class was definitely one of the best
courses I have taken at UCLA,” said fourth year policy and
media studies student Melanie Ho.

“The group projects and interactions foster a level of
intellectual and personal discourse between the students and
between the students and professor,” she continued.

Daniel Gomez, an undeclared second year student, said that
although Nardi’s teaching methods were unlike any other
professor, he enjoyed the experience.

“It is true that his teaching could probably be considered
a little unorthodox,” he said. “This group project
was unlike anything I had ever done before in school, and was a
great experience.”

Nardi’s emphasis on student-teacher interaction goes
beyond the classroom material.

“We’ve gone to the Brew Co. three or four times
together,” Kaplinsky said. “We just talked about
totally non-academic material quite a few times.”

According to Kaplinsky, Nardi is unique because he makes the
effort to reach out to his students on a more personal level.

“I feel that a lot of professors, while completely
intelligent authorities in the field, are not the best teachers as
they are not in touch with their students anymore, and make no
effort to get in touch,” he said. “I really
enjoyed hearing about all his adventures.”  

“I thought it was great that Dario shared his other
interests, such as music, with the class because it helped us to
relate with him and feel more at ease in the class,” Ho

“We could tell that he took a genuine interest in his
students as people and in our growth personally as
individuals,” she continued.

Although Nardi enjoys socializing with his students, he said he
sometimes finds he doesn’t fit in.

“At the same time, I’m not a college student,”
he said. “Some undergrads invited me to a party once and I
was quickly bored.

“I felt like I was the guest of honor or something, which
is quite embarrassing in a way.”

Nonetheless, Nardi said he enjoys the positive response he
receives from his students.

“When students stop by to say hello, or write something
touching, or even make fun of me ““ moments like these are
very rewarding,” he said.

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