Published January 29, 2018
Last month, one staff and two faculty members from the UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering received honors at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) annual holiday party, along with several faculty and staff members throughout the school.
Éva McGovern, the department’s undergraduate academic coordinator received the 2017 Customer Service Award, and two faculty members, John Atkinson and Anthony Tessari, earned the Early Career Teacher of the Year Award for 2017. Each recipient demonstrates an impressive commitment to students.
McGovern’s award recognizes the superb support she provides to students and faculty with regard to advising, and coordinating the undergraduate program in CSEE.
“My door is always open to students. What I enjoy most about my job is building lasting, personal relationships with students while helping them achieve their academic goals,” McGovern says, “I love to see them come into their own, and be an aid to finding their path in life as they complete our degree program.”
McGovern joined the department in her current position, in 2013. In addition to her duties as academic coordinator, McGovern stepped up and helped with other department, staff, and faculty needs as they arose. During her tenure in the Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CSEE) Department, she assisted with hiring new staff, took on departmental course scheduling, assisted with graduate program needs during staff transitions, conducted graduate commencement ceremonies, and has taken on a more significant role in the ITU Dual Diploma Program. She strives to provide an excellent experience for students, and is exploring new ways to facilitate student development through lab exposure, job opportunities, and social activities that help facilitate deeper bonds between students and CSEE.
“For me the most important outcome is seeing our students succeed and become valuable members of society. To this end, I am here to make sure they gain as much as possible from their undergraduate experience. By connecting them to the right campus resources, building a bond between them and CSEE, helping them build relationships with our faculty, explore lab work, connect to job opportunities, and think about graduate school, I am able to be a part of their growth and success. Wherever our students go from here, when they look back on their years at UB, and feel they were part of the CSEE community. That’s a matter of pride for me. I love our students.”
Atkinson, one of the Early Career Teacher of the Year Award winners, shares the commitment to UB engineering students. Earlier this month, he traveled to Costa Rica with a group of engineering students for a case study sustainability course. A study abroad experience, according to Atkinson, is critical to the undergraduate student experience. “My opinion from the time I started investigating the feasibility of this course was that students need it,” he says, “I’ve been fortunate to travel and work abroad, and these experiences are an essential piece of an engineer’s education. I wanted to give students that opportunity.”
His creativity in teaching CIE 447, an on-campus sustainability course offered to CSEE students, contributed to Atkinson’s recognition. He recently gave a TEDx talk describing how he works with students to expand their understanding of sustainability. In trying to determine what students were doing to live sustainably, Atkinson developed a Twitter-based experiential learning project, the #447challenge. Students are asked to complete week-long tasks like taking public transportation or going vegetarian, and then tweet about it. The project is optional, but most students are excited to participate. The challenge generated close to 700 tweets over the past two years.
Another civil, structural and environmental engineering faculty member, Anthony Tessari, received his Early Career Teacher of the Year Award based on similar criteria. He has helped the department secure unique lab equipment and developed a more inclusive way of teaching, in an effort to improve the experience of our undergraduate students.
One piece of equipment Tessari has brought in is the teaching centrifuge, a device that will dramatically increase the impact of several labs associated with CIE 334 Soil Mechanics. This device allows students and faculty working in our lab to recreate slope failures more dramatically, and it gives students the ability to simulate the effects that can occur to mechanically stabilized earth walls.
“Student engagement and the undergraduate experience are something I really want to focus on,” he says, “I’ve put a lot of effort into getting ready to have stuff like this to making the classes much more engaging.”
His desire to advance his students’ experience extends to his lectures as well. He has developed a document, students receive complete with images and graphics he and the students annotate together.
“if I can keep people engaged, make them write, make them change focus, the class is more effective,” says Tessari. “Students really like it, and really respond to that.”