Engineering Prof Wins
National Teaching Award
For Glenn W. Ellis, associate professor of engineering,
teaching students in the Picker Engineering Program and conducting his research in
engineering go hand in hand.
They are symbiotic components of a larger objective
that combines technology and the humanities, science with the liberal arts, to provide
tomorrow’s engineers with insight and flexibility that extends well beyond
rote equations and algorithms.
Indeed, Ellis’ research, on engineering education,
primarily explores the best ways to impart the concepts and principles of engineering
to engender deep, contextual understanding of not only the mechanics of our built
environment, but also of the ethics, philosophies and history surrounding what we
Perhaps it’s logical, given his committed interest
in the most effective methods of pedagogy, that he has been honored with a Professor
of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and
the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)—the only national
award for excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Ellis was presented with the award at a ceremony today,
Thursday, Nov. 15, in Washington, D.C. The award includes a $5,000 gift as well as
an award certificate, and covers expenses for Ellis, a guest and a student to attend
the recipients’ presentation.
The U.S. Professor of the Year program annually salutes
a select few of the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country—those
who positively influence the lives and careers of students.
Ellis, who has become a national leader in engineering
education, was also honored in April 2006 with Smith College’s Kathleen Compton
Sherrerd ’54 and John J. F. Sherrerd Prize for Distinguished Teaching. And
he received awards for teaching at Clarkson University, where he previously taught.
Ellis views the honor of the U.S. Professor of the Year
Award as a validation of the Picker program’s broad approach to engineering
“This is a really great chance for the world to
see our program,” he says. “It’s exciting. I see it really as an
honor for the college and for the Picker program.”
In his acceptance speech, Ellis emphasized the necessity
of shifting education toward a newer, more informed model. “It is just not
good enough to teach the way that we were taught,” he said. “We know
that doing so in engineering will surely exclude many of the young people we need
Ellis teaches a course titled Teaching Science and Engineering
(secondary school) in the Department of Education and Child Study and has worked
extensively with that department to create more effective models for his own teaching.
“We’re very interested in our students developing
deep understanding,” he says of the Picker program faculty. “We want
our students to take control of their own learning, we want them to be able to define
and monitor what they are learning. At Smith, they get flexibility, which is necessary
to handle and solve real-world problems. They gain the ability to adapt to changing
technologies and new information.”
That approach to teaching is a marked contrast to the
traditional approaches for teaching engineering, he says. “As a student, I
didn’t know what it meant to learn engineering,” he recalls. “It
was a lot of memorization, learning algorithms. When you finished, you never saw
the big picture.”
Since joining the Smith faculty in 2001, the founding
year of the pioneering Picker program, Ellis has focused on improving and adapting
his teaching to incorporate the research on how people learn, he says.
“At Smith, the standards for teaching are high,” he
says. “My big change in coming to Smith is learning how to be a scholar of
Part of his scholarship includes combining his instruction
and his research so that they complement each other in the interest, always, of producing
more effective teaching.
“At Smith, unlike at many other institutions,
the two worlds go together—research and teaching,” he notes. “It’s
a perfect model for me. I’m very happy here.”