Nelson Kraus stands with his wife, Susan Kraus, in front of his grandfather's plaque outside Kraus Auditorium.


In Edward H. Kraus’s 41-year career at U-M, he saw the student body increase tenfold from the start of his career to the end and witnessed science that spanned the early days of X-rays to the Voyager Space Program.

It is fitting, then, that an innovative classroom—where students learn about literature, science, and the arts in new ways—has been named for Kraus. The 134-seat classroom in the University of Michigan’s Biological Sciences Building (BSB) was renamed for the late LSA dean and professor of mineralogy at a commemorative event on October 27.

During Kraus’s career at U-M, where he served as LSA’s dean from 1933 to 1945, he witnessed the student body increase from 3,500 students in 1904 when he started teaching to 35,000 students in 1970, when, although formally retired since 1945, he was still researching and publishing academic papers.

“If this University is a great institution, it’s because of people like Dr. Kraus … When I seek to understand how the university got here, Kraus’s life and work comes up all the time,” LSA’s Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Tim McKay said in remarks at the event before tours of the auditorium for faculty, staff, and students. 

Kraus saw the university undergo incredible changes, such as the construction of the Rackham Building, Angell Hall, and the Law Quadrangle. He also witnessed major historic events, like the 1918 flu pandemic, World War I, and World War II.

Other speakers at the event included LSA Dean Anne Curzan; Nelson Kraus, Kraus’s grandson; Jackie Li, a professor of earth and environmental sciences; and Mika LaVaque-Manty, director of the LSA Honors Program.

“The conventional university auditorium, where one person talks to a crowd, has been used since the 11th century, when the first European universities emerged,” said LaVaque-Manty. “We now know that when you get students and teachers together in person, learning happens best when students work together. Students should think of every classroom as a lab, not as a theater where they reverentially listen to a guru.”



And the students concur. According to Monika Dressler, director of LSA Instructional Support Services, students have worked in what’s now referred to as Kraus Auditorium since the BSB opened in 2019, and they often provide positive feedback about how the space makes them feel, from the windows and natural light to the light wood and high ceilings.

The auditorium has a distinctive arrangement that helps foster student autonomy, with a stage for lecturing at the front and wheelchair-accessible tables of four or six grouped together, facing inward toward each other, referred to as a star pattern. Each table has a monitor for small-group work or to better see what’s being presented at the front of the room. Additionally, multiple moveable whiteboards occupy the learning space, allowing students from various disciplines to display their work and walk around to see what their peers are doing.

Depending on the class, students in this active, team-based learning environment may study different art pieces up close on their monitor or solve math problems on their whiteboards and then walk around the room to see how other groups have solved the same problem in a different way. Kraus Auditorium is home to classes from a variety of disciplines, including biology, physics, chemistry, Italian, cultural anthropology, history of art, entrepreneurship, sociology, and more. 

Recently retired Nelson Kraus, who also instituted a “flipped classroom” model approximately five years ago in his own classes as a professor at the University of Indianapolis, attended the dedication. “My grandfather was a very traditional guy in the 20th century,” he said. “I never saw him lecture, but my sense was he was an awesome lecturer with a typical peer lecture hall with tables pointed to the front. I’m not sure how he’d respond to a room like this, but I’m sure he’d have given it great thought and realized how, when students teach other students, it increases their learning dramatically.”

Photos by Scott Soderberg/Michigan Photography