Awards honor excellence in engineering teaching and advising

Passionate, committed, encouraging, approachable, incredible – these are just a few of the adjectives used to describe faculty members receiving teaching and advising awards at the 2022 Cornell Engineering Fall Faculty Reception hosted Sept. 22 in the Statler Ballroom.

College Teaching Awards

The College Teaching Awards recognize outstanding instructors across many dimensions including lecturing; developing novel curriculum, implementing teaching innovations, or novel pedagogy; exceptional mentoring of students; enhancements of instructional laboratories; mentoring of other faculty, or other teaching related service.

“It is inspiring to read the nominations, to learn about some of the really great work in teaching in the college and to see just how much care and effort our colleagues are putting into supporting our students,” said Alan Zehnder, associate dean for undergraduate programs, who presented the awards.

The recipients were:

Jayadev Acharya (ECE) was recognized for his work in the development of ECE 4200, Fundamentals of Machine Learning. Jayadev built this class from the ground up and it has become one of ECE’s most successful elective courses. Students really appreciate his efforts, citing his clarity, passion and commitment to their learning and success.  

Chris Alabi (CBE) teaches courses spanning first-year, ENGRI 1120, to grads (ChemE 6400). In his four years teaching 1120, Chris has transformed the course, balancing fundamental principles with design and creative thinking. One student wrote, “AMAZING COURSE, what I imagined when I heard and thought about a Cornell Education.”

James Antaki (BME) was recognized for his outstanding teaching and leadership of the BME senior capstone design course sequence. Students pitch their project ideas to the class to form teams. The project milestones are a realistic simulation of the industrial design process. On top of his high profile and successful research, Jim managed to spend time each week with each of the 10 teams.

Iwijn De Vlaminck (BME) turned around BME 4020, Electrical and Chemical Physiology, a required lab course for seniors. Students cited his clarity and passion. At the graduate level, he teaches BME 6120, Precision and Genomic Medicine, with a student writing “incredible professor” …. “favorite course ever.”

Silvia Ferrari (MAE) has been teaching graduate courses in control and robot perception, including MAE 5810, 6780, 6790.  Students cite multiple aspects of Silvia’s teaching, but perhaps the following is a good summary: “Prof. Ferrari is the best professor I’ve had at Cornell.... does an amazing job of explaining complex material.”

Eric Gentsch (ORIE) teaches ORIE 4100 Manufacturing Systems Design and ORIE 4126/5126 Principles of Supply Chain Management. He has consistently very high ratings from students, and one of his colleagues stated,  “Hiring Eric Gentsch is the best thing…ORIE has done for our undergraduate students…The unfailing professionalism, empathy, and competence he demonstrates…are a model for our students and faculty alike.”

Jillian Goldfarb (BEE) was recognized for both outstanding teaching and leadership. She has developed a diverse teaching portfolio, redesigned engineering curricula, established methods to encourage students to move beyond textbook learning to address real-world challenges, published new classroom activities in top pedagogy journals, and lead the redesign of the Cornell engineering ABET assessment program.  

Kirstin Petersen (ECE) was recognized for her contributions to the ECE curriculum, especially the development of her Fast Robots course; her general leadership within ECE on curricular matters pertaining to robotics; and her commitment to student project teams advising. Though still an assistant professor, Kirstin has taken the lead within ECE on robotics research and instruction.

Matt Reid (CEE) was recognized as an excellent and dedicated educator. The course evaluations document a long history of student sentiment that marks his long history as a very strong professor. He regularly teaches CEE 4530 Laboratory Research in Environmental Engineering and CEE 6530 Water Chemistry. 4530 is a key course in environmental engineering. Matt has redesigned the labs and really turned this class around. 

Mridusmita Saikia (BME) was recognized for her outstanding teaching of multiple required 2000 and 3000 level undergraduate and graduate classes. On BME 2210 Students write: “amazing.”  “I loved this course,” and cite the quality and relevance of the homework assignments.  

Andrej Singer (MSE) has become a favorite teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students. He delivers compelling lectures in both an engineering distribution class and two 6000-level graduate courses, including one in advanced x-ray characterization. One student called MSE 6040 a “slam dunk of a course.”

Uli Wiesner (MSE) teaches several upper-level electives (MSE  5210 and 5230) and a graduate core courses (MSE 6010). Over the past five years, Uli has consistently been one MSE top teachers and a top researcher in the college. In spring 2020, Uli took the COVID pivot as a chance to flip his classroom with outstanding results.

Charles Williamson (MAE) was recognized for his long career of outstanding teaching in fluid mechanics and the fluids-thermal senior lab in MAE. Beloved by his students he has been named by Merrill Presidential Scholars as the professor who has had the most significant impact on their career a record 17 times.

Christina Yu (ORIE) was recognized for her teaching in both systems engineering (5700) and ORIE 6700. From her very first semester to now, she has done an outstanding job. Students note that “the content was clearly organized, super interesting, and she was always approachable and offered to help when there were challenges.”

Zhiru Zhang (ECE) has taught ECE 2300 Digital Logic and Computer Organization for the past eight years. He has shown an enduring commitment to quality education and it shows in the outcomes of 2300, which can be a difficult course to teach due to the varying degrees of students preparation. One student wrote, “This class is probably one of the best courses I will ever take at Cornell.”

Qing Zhao’s (ECE) teaching efforts have focused on the ECE two-course sequence in probability and random processes: ECE 3100 and ECE 4110. These courses are quite mathematical, yet Qing has found the winning recipe for these courses with the right content and adding implementation-based projects where student can apply what they are learning. Students cite her as “the BEST lecturer” and “best course delivery.”

Donors supporting the College Teaching Awards include Robert '55 and Vanne '57 Cowie, James and Mary Tien, Dorothy and Fred Chau MS '74, Sonny Yau '72, Douglas Whitney '61, Kenneth A. Goldman '71, Mr. & Mrs. Richard F. Tucker, John Swanson '61 ME in honor of his mother Dorothy G. Swanson, Michael Tien '72, Daniel M. Lazar '29, Fiona Ip Li '78 and Donald Li '75, Ralph S. Watts '72, and Dennis G. Shepherd.

James M. and Marsha D. McCormick Advising Awards

These awards recognize outstanding efforts by advisors of first-year undergraduate students. Faculty are nominated by their students and the appreciation of the students for their advisors is strongly felt.

The recipients were:

Brian Kirby (MAE) was recognized for going above and beyond in advising his first-year students, helping them to get to know each other and organizing bowling, sledding and rock climbing.  “Best advisor ever,” stated one student.

Christopher Ober (MSE) was recognized for his kindness and enthusiasm, taking time to meet with all his students and his concern for their well-being. One student wrote, “He makes it known that that we can talk to him about anything.”

Canaan Family Award for Excellence in Academic Advising – In Honor of Prof. Bingham Cady

First awarded in 2021, the Canaan Family Award for Excellence in Academic Advising is given in honor of Professor Bingham Cady, who was known by his students as terrific adviser with a rare ability to find the simplicity in complex problems.

This year’s recipients were:

Lena Kourkoutis (AEP) was selected in recognition of her leadership of the engineering physics undergraduate program, and for her devotion and genuine care of her advisees. Through her teaching, academic advising, and research mentoring, Lena cultivated a deep personal connection to her students.

Christopher (Kit) Umbach (MSE) serves as the associate director of undergraduate studies in MSE. Kit goes above and beyond what is necessary when advising students. His knowledge of the curriculum is top notch. He genuinely cares about students and investigates all possible scenarios when trying to find solutions for struggling students.

Jan Lammerding (BME) was recognized for advising the iGEM synthetic biology project team. His students write that “the success of our projects would not have been possible without Dr. Lammerding …. He provides insight, feedback, and resources on our project work while also allowing us to remain a largely student-led team.”

Gilly Leshed (IS) serves as faculty advisor to the Design & Tech Initiative (DTI) team. She has made time, and invested energy and empathy, to support DTI students in navigating stressful and difficult interpersonal issues on the team and to respond to DEI challenges and issues.

(Van) Hunter Adams (ECE) is a faculty advisor to several Project Teams. He provides consistent, reliable, valuable support to the many students he works with and teams he advises, and the students have quickly recognized him as a “go-to” resource, whether he is their team’s official advisor or not.

Albert R. George Endowed Faculty Award for Student Project Teams Mentorship

The Albert George Award was first established in 2022 with a gift from Doug Deane. The inaugural recipient is Al George (MAE), who effectively founded Cornell’s Student Project Teams program via his founding and mentoring of the long running Formula SAE team. His impact on our students is measured not only through the many wins of FSAE, but by the advancement of the students’ education and professional success as a result of their experiences on the team.

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