Dr. Richard T. Sarkin Award for Excellence in Teaching: William G. Wild Jr., MS '87, MA '85 & BS '83, of Buffalo, N.Y.

By Barbara A. Byers

Release Date: March 18, 2010

Related Multimedia

William Wild

William Wild has played a major role in radically changing the educational experience of freshmen in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Shortly after earning his second master's degree, in industrial engineering, Wild began his engineering career with the RAND Corporation, a non-profit think tank that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.

While at RAND, Wild was introduced to at-risk students when he volunteered with incarcerated youth. He eventually left RAND to teach at an alternative school in inner-city Los Angeles, working with teens unable to attend the standard school system due to their involvement in gang-related activities. His focus on education also evolved while working with at-risk students at Niagara University, and ultimately he returned to UB in 1998 to establish the Student Excellence Initiatives.

The program's mission is to create, at the entry level, conditions in which each student has a fair chance of success. To this end, initiatives were developed that include non-academic elements such as Engineering Opening Day, a faculty mentoring program for incoming freshmen, as well as academic initiatives, most notably:

• Academic small groups in calculus, chemistry and physics. Small groups help students understand course material and, using that context, train students in problem-solving approaches. The small group pedagogy is highly interactive and keyed to students making the transition from high school to university-level engineering.

• A "Core Competencies" initiative that measures problem difficulty and uses that data to design exams and interpret outcomes.

Most recently, Wild developed a program that enabled engineering students seeking to make a difference to tackle projects ranging from wind power on campus to a production process for "blanket-coats" for area homeless. This past fall he led a team of faculty instructors in designing a new introduction to engineering course centered on the theme of alternative energy.

Wild's initiatives have proven their worth: Over the first six freshman cohorts, undergraduate students completing their degrees in five years or less rose by 68 percent. While other factors have likely contributed to this success, the Student Excellence Initiatives led the way.