Awards honors outstanding teaching, specialized faculty

5/6/2021 Kimberly Belser

Written by Kimberly Belser

Six faculty members from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Grainger College of Engineering received honors for their contribution to engineering education. The William H. Severns Professorship, the Laura Hahn Faculty Fellowship, and the Laura Hahn Scholar were given out for excellence in the classroom. The awards are the first named positions within the college to honor specialized faculty, in this case, teaching professors who focus on classroom teaching, curriculum, and educational programs
“Our specialized faculty are central to our success in and out of the classroom and in our educational and research ecosystem,” said Dean Rashid Bashir. “These awards are just one of a number of ways the college is seeking to honor and recognize the impact of these important members of the Grainger Engineering community.”
The Hahn Faculty Fellowship and Hahn Faculty Scholar are dedicated in the memory of the late Laura Hahn, who acted as the director of the Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education. Hahn left a lasting impact on engineering education and “made the University of Illinois a second home” during her career.
The William H. Severns Professorship and Severns Faculty Scholar recognize faculty members who have demonstrated “significant and sustained impact on the development of new and impactful teaching techniques, broadening the educational experience of engineering students, and/or motivating the education of engineering students through bringing practical, real-world experiences into the classroom.” The honors are named after late mechanical engineering professor William H. Severns. 

Jenny Amos

Teaching Associate Professor Jenny Amos was named a Hahn Faculty Scholar. Amos is a part of the Department of Bioengineering, and is a founding member of the new Carle-Illinois College of Medicine. She has also served as a program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) for nine years, and is a Commissioner in ABET in the Biomedical Engineering Society division.

Amos has supervised the research of six doctoral candidates and designed a project-based master’s program in École Centrale de Lille, France formed through a collaboration between the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine and The Grainger College of Engineering, for which she was named a Fulbright Specialist Scholar. Amos was co-PI of a grant provided by the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) and has acted as PI or co-PI on over $3 million in federal funding in biomedical engineering education.

Tim Bretl

Associate Professor Tim Bretl is a Severns Faculty Scholar. Bretl is a member of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and the Associate Head of Undergraduate Programs for the department. . He is responsible for reimagining the AE 353 course to make it more enjoyable and more practical for aerospace students. Bretl also created AE 483 to better expose AE students to hands-on aerospace controls. 

Bretl is heavily involved in educational initiatives with the college’s The Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education (AE3). This includes being a founder and developer of the computer based teaching programs PrairieLearn. He has won multiple national, campus, and college awards. His passion for education extends beyond the university. Bretl is a volunteer instructor at the Danville Correctional Center and as spokesperson on our campus for the Education Justice Project.

Geoffrey Herman

Teaching Associate Professor Geoffrey Herman is the recipient of the Severns Professorship. Herman is a part of the Department of Computer Science and co-creator of the online learning platform PrairieLearn. He instructed CS 233 and CS 498, a project-based learning course proposed and designed himself for graduate students.

Herman’s research focuses on identifying factors that “impede student learning and stop learning blocks.” He collaborated for a $2 million National Science Foundation-funded project launched to redesign curriculum within the Department of Bioengineering. He has been the principal investigator (PI) on 4 NSF grants, served on three doctoral committees, and is currently advising three doctoral students studying computer science. His publications include two book chapters, 27 journal papers and 63 conference proceedings.

Karin Jensen

Teaching Associate Professor Karin Jensen is the recipient of the Hahn Faculty Fellowship. Jensen is a member of the  Department of Bioengineering, the Associate Editor for the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering and Co-Chair for the Biomedical Engineering Educator Community Virtual Conferences.

Jensen’s research focuses on student mental health and stress management, fields in which she is “breaking new ground on and is of great current interest in the current environments of a coronavirus pandemic and a mental health crisis.” She has been the PI or co-principal investigator on 14 grants, and has 6 submitted journal articles, 17 peer reviewed conference proceedings, 11 conference presentations, and 10 conference posters throughout her career.

Matt West

Associate Professor Matt West is a Severns Faculty Scholar. West is a member of the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. He has been heavily involved in improving student experiences through funding from SIIP and AE3. West is the creator of PrairieLearn, a first of its kind online skill training system to help provide more individualized education and support to students. He is also the co-director of the Computer Based Testing Facility. 

West has held positions across campus that demonstrate his dedication to education. He also co-created and directed summer camps for teens, and sat on multiple committees relating to improving campus courses and assessment. He has won numerous awards at the campus and college level for his work. Additionally, he published six peer-reviewed conference papers on the topic of teaching-related research, with several at highly selective conferences.

Craig Zilles

Associate Professor Craig Zilles is a Severns Faculty Scholar. Zilles is a member of the Department of Computer Science and has been dedicated to improving higher education on campus and beyond. He is a core member of the group that implemented the Computer Based Testing Facility and PriaireLearn. This model has been implemented by other universities and has also served as a research tool for Zilles. He has won two recent NSF grants to support his educational research and his research has been well-published in numerous journals.

Zilles serves on the Faculty Senate’s subcommittee on Educational Policy, and has won awards at the national, campus, and college level. Zilles teaches multiple Computer Science courses across levels and has been ranked as excellent by his students for 15 of the last 16 years. In addition to teaching, Zilles has been instrumental in creating a supportive culture for teaching faculty.

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This story was published May 6, 2021.