A West Virginia University economics professor who uses walkie-talkies to increase student participation in his large classes has won a University award for outstanding teaching.

Russell S. Sobel was among 10 faculty members vying for the second June Harless Award for Exceptional Teaching, said C.B. Wilson, associate provost for academic personnel and chairman of the award committee.

“Professor Sobel has been recognized in the past for his unique contributions in teaching, and this award confirms the earlier judgments of colleagues about that quality,”Dr. Wilson said.”He is very enthusiastic and has been very productive, both as a teacher and a researcher. Its certainly a well-deserved award.”

The award was made possible by a contribution from Gene A. Budig, WVUs 17th president and now senior adviser to the commissioner of Major League Baseball. It is named for the deceased wife of James”Buck”Harless, a Mingo County coal executive and member of the University System Board of Trustees. Candidates for the award are judged on success and achievements as a teacher.

In supporting Dr. Sobels nomination, Bill Trumbull, economics chairman, said,”Word gets around when you have a teacher of Russ caliber. His ability to excite students about the material he teaches is truly remarkable.”

Sobel joined WVUs College of Business and Economics in 1994 as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics. He teaches principles of microeconomics, principles of macroeconomics, and courses in government tax and expenditure policy.

His microeconomics classes have about 230 students and are held in an auditorium in the B&E Building. To overcome the lack of student-teacher interaction, Sobel introduced walkie-talkies into the large classes. With a receiver hooked into the rooms sound system, students with the walkie-talkies can speak into them and be heard by Sobel and the rest of the class.

“The students love it because they get to interact with me,”he said.”Its a valuable tool for me to get to know my students. By the end of a semester, I might know 60 students names.”

Sobel earned his bachelors degree in business economics from Francis Marion College and his masters and doctoral degrees in economics from Florida State University. In addition to teaching, Sobel is a researcher whose work focuses on the economic effects of state and local tax policy and political behavior. He has also co-written an economics textbook.

His other teaching awards are the Department of Economics Outstanding Teacher Award, the College of Business and Economics Outstanding Teacher Award, the University Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching and the WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching. He has also won his colleges Outstanding Researcher Award.

Sobel said he is honored to receive the Harless Award so early in his teaching career.

“There are a lot of good teachers who have been at this University a long time, and for me to receive this new teaching award is a big honor and privilege,”he said.

Harless Award recipients receive a $5,000 stipend to be used for equipment, supplies, travel or salary support. All faculty are eligible for the award, and one award will be given each year through 2003.