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Civjan and Fan Selected as College of Engineering Outstanding Teachers

Scott Civjan

Scott Civjan

Wei Fan

Wei Fan

Please join us in congratulating Professor Scott Civjan of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Professor Wei Fan of the Chemical Engineering Department for being named the 2015-2016 College of Engineering Outstanding Teachers.

As an announcement by Dean Tim Anderson says, “Scott’s consistently excellent student evaluations, and the recognition by his colleagues of his longstanding dedication to teaching were cited by the selection committee. Wei was cited for highly effective teaching in some of the most challenging courses in his department and outstanding mentorship of undergraduate researchers in REU and Honors programs. Scott and Wei were recognized during the COE Senior Recognition Celebration to was held on Saturday, May 7, 2016.

As a nomination letter by CEE Professor Sergio F. Breña says, “Dr. Civjan not only excels in the classroom, but also serves as an active mentor to individual students and student groups, and participates actively in curriculum development both within and outside UMass.”

Among many other classes taught by Civjan, he has taught the steel design sequence that consists of an undergraduate design class (CEE 434) followed by a graduate-level advanced topics class (CEE 542) for over 16 years. Breña says that teaching design classes is quite challenging because classes need periodic updating to keep up with design code changes.

“The approach that Dr. Civjan has taken is to select a design project for each class (often a structure being built on campus) each semester to enrich the student learning experience,” Breña says. “He has taken the time to go over the design drawings with students, schedule class visits to the site to illustrate class concepts, and develop examples based on the selected project. He has also incorporated a research component into one of the classes to promote student learning through independent study of existing literature. He encourages individual and group work in his classes, allowing students to engage with peers in the solution of complex design problems. I have heard very positive comments about the student experiences in these classes, and I’m sure that his high student evaluation scores reflect that.”

In 2006, students and faculty selected Dr. Civjan to be the College of Engineering faculty commencement speaker, reflecting the value students place on his opinions and comments. He has also received the Faculty of the Year Award from the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers twice (2006, 2013). In 2015, he received the James L. Tighe Distinguished Teaching Award from the CEE Department, as chosen by alumni. In addition, his teaching skills have also been recognized externally by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

In his teaching statement, Civjan writes that “The human element of my student interactions and teaching is essential to my effectiveness and enjoyment of instruction...So, what is the human element in my teaching? It is the adaptation of course materials and teaching to meet the changing needs of the students, of reacting to cues from students about their interest and understanding of material, and providing a personal interaction with each class to show that I am interacting with them as a class, not just presenting re-hashed lectures from the past.”

Civjan adds that “These changes keep the courses fresh by requiring that I constantly re-evaluate my notes and course topics to ensure that I am addressing the newest methodology and design approaches. This re-evaluation also allows me to revise content regularly based on student feedback and my self-awareness of whether a lecture was effective. Over time this has led to a continuous evaluation of how classes are progressing and freed me to incorporate many approaches.”

In his nomination letter for Fan, ChE Professor Peter Monson says that “The basis for this nomination is Wei’s truly outstanding success as a teacher at all levels in our program and the remarkable level of trust and understanding he has established with our students - whether it be in the classroom, in his supervision of undergraduate research projects, or in his work with his graduate students. Over the years I have regularly served on the College Outstanding Teacher Award committee and recall singular cases of young faculty who established extraordinary rapport with students leading to remarkably effective teaching. Wei Fan belongs in such company.”

Monson says that Fan’s success in the courses he teaches is well-documented in terms of the SRTI data included in his teaching statement. The thermodynamics course is especially notable.

“This is a difficult course to teach effectively because of the conceptual difficulties students encounter, particularly with respect to the second law and in understanding how multivariable calculus is deployed to provide a framework for thermodynamic property calculations,” says Monson. “Wei has updated the course significantly and adopted active learning techniques to improve the level of engagement in the classroom. For the first few times that Wei taught this course, I taught our second thermodynamics course and I was able to see firsthand the impact that he was having.”

Monson also says that Fan’s record of working with undergraduates both in independent study courses and summer REU programs is among the best in the department. His graduate students have a fine record of scholarly achievement under his mentorship as indicated by the many research articles he has published with his students. Letters from these students testify to the quality of the mentoring relationship.

In his teaching statement, Fan says that “Having a right attitude about teaching is important for an educator. I consider teaching as an integral part of my career and will take up the challenge with well-prepared course constructions. Meanwhile, I believe that the extra efforts on course preparation will be paid off in the classroom, especially for a non-native teacher. In the past five years, I have re-designed “Thermodynamics I,” developed a new elective course for both undergraduates and graduates named “Nanomaterials Chemistry and Engineering,” and strengthened a graduate major course, “Chemical Kinetics and Reactor Design.”

Fan adds that “In addition to attitude, my teaching strategy is grounded strictly on a focus on building active interactions between instructors and the students. I have observed from both the student and teacher perspective that motivation and enthusiasm is contagious, and can greatly enhance the learning process. In my mind, a healthy learning environment extends beyond the confines of the classroom, and is one with mutual respect that fosters comfortable interactions with students.” (June 2016)