2020 Teaching Excellence Awards

April 27, 2020

Seven engineering faculty honored for contributions to students

Each year, the Spartan Engineering community at Michigan State University gathers for a large luncheon to honor demonstrated excellence and distinguished contributions by faculty and staff members. Students nominate their favorite teachers, offering phrases like “dedicated educator” and “always willing to work with students.” 

With MSU currently working remotely due to the international health crisis, the 2020 Withrow Teaching Excellence Awards have been announced – remotely.

Engineering Dean Leo Kempel congratulated this year’s winners, saying “well done.”

“Allow me to congratulate all the winners,” Kempel noted. “The luncheon we have is a high point to the year for many of us. We’re working to make it possible again when we can return to campus.”

The 2020 Withrow Teaching Excellence Awards recipients are:

Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering – Truman Surbrook
Biomedical Engineering – Erin Purcell
Chemical Engineering and Materials Science – Stephen Kamin
Civil and Environmental Engineering – Annick Anctil
Computer Science and Engineering – Arun A. Ross
Electrical and Computer Engineering – Hassan Khalil
Mechanical Engineering – Patton Allison

Truman Surbrook
Truman Surbrook

Truman Surbrook, a professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, has taught at MSU for more than 50 years, and current biosystems engineering students testify to his enduring and passionate devotion to their learning and professional development.

In nominating Surbrook for the Withrow Teaching Excellence Award, a student noted, “… he is always enthusiastic about teaching and very willing to help students. Dr. Surbrook teaches both junior- and senior-level courses with laboratory components.” Another student wrote that “… he goes to extreme lengths to ensure that students understand the material.”

Surbrook is called an exceptionally effective teacher, in terms of real-world relevance and learning outcomes. His greatest contribution may be through his enthusiasm, passion, motivation, and caring that inspires his students to grow. Examples from his students include: “…he is a really awesome and uplifting person” who “…really enjoys teaching and helping people learn.” “He encourages students to be the best engineers they can be.”

He has received this award three times, including in 2008 and 2016.

As one admirer said, “Dr. Surbrook’s exceptional devotion to student learning, balancing rigorous course content with deep and abiding caring about students, makes him most deserving of this award.”

Erin Purcell
Erin Purcell

Erin Purcell, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), is a recognized scholar in neural engineering and an innovative teacher who effectively transfers knowledge gained through her research to her students. Purcell’s pioneering research, which is funded by major NIH and NSF grants, elucidates the interactions between brain cells and implanted electrodes, enabling neural probes to be more effective for neurological diseases and injuries. Since 2015, she has been lead PI on three NIH grants, totaling $2.5 million.

An educational innovator in the BME department, she has developed new, cross‐disciplinary courses that bridge the gap between engineering and the life sciences. She trains students from diverse disciplines to solve biomedical problems collaboratively. Purcell actively engages in all phases of her students’ research‐related experiences, from collecting data to publishing results to planning a career path. She has also made significant contributions in instructional scholarship, both through development of new courses and improvement of BME’s graduate training processes. She has chaired the BME Graduate Studies Committee.

She is a leader in diversifying MSU’s scholarly community through a variety of initiatives, including recruiting female students into her research program, and supporting Society of Women in Engineering and Introduce a Girl to Engineering events, along with summer camps.

Her awards include an NSF CAREER Award and a 2020 MSU Teacher Scholar Award.

Stephen Kamin
Stephen Kamin

Stephen Kamin, a teaching specialist in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, is a dedicated educator with a passion for teaching and helping students succeed. Students cited his expansive industry experience and genuine concern for their well-being inside and outside the classroom, and applauded his accessibility as he creates a welcoming and effective learning environment with a heavy emphasis on safety and professionalism.

Prior to joining MSU in 2017, he worked for 35 years at Dow Corning, which provided him with immense knowledge and industry experience that offers students context through real-life examples. His equipment knowledge is unparalleled. One student said, “he’s knowledgeable and delivers content in a way that sticks with you.”

Students appreciate that he is always available for questions, whether in class or through an abundance of office hours, despite having a long commute to campus. Time and again, students described him as a kind and caring instructor. “He knows every ChE senior’s name and makes you feel very important.”

Professor Kamin’s commitment includes ensuring that students prioritize their personal well-being and seek out mental health resources they may need. As one student noted, “Professor Kamin is a dedicated educator with a lot of passion for the work. He truly understands his students.”Added another, “he works hard to ensure that no student who falls behind is left behind.”

Annick Anctil
Annick Anctil

Annick Anctil, assistant professor of Environmental Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is a passionate and caring educator who is dedicated to student learning, inside and outside the classroom. She joined MSU in 2014. She works hard to simplify difficult course material and always makes herself available to answer students' questions. As one student notes, "extremely personable and willing to work with students until they are comfortable with the material.” Professor Anctil exemplifies the MSU tag line, "Advancing the common good with uncommon will.”

Students consistently comment that she goes above and beyond to make herself available to students, with one student noting, “She made an 8 a.m. Sustainability lecture interesting and frequently provided us with advice and opportunities for career development.” Another student said she answers questions effectively, explains thoroughly and is available outside the classroom.

The students also highlighted her knowledge and versatility as an instructor. “Dr. Anctil makes every effort to make the classroom an enjoyable place to be and, importantly, a place conducive to learning.” The selection committee of student leaders unanimously chose Dr. Anctil for this recognition based on nominations from students and careful deliberations.

Arun Ross
Arun Ross

Arun Ross, is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Cillag Endowed Chair of Science & Engineering, who makes learning a fun and challenging experience for his students.

As one student said, "I enjoyed going to class every day even if it meant a 30-minute walk in the cold. Of all the professors at Michigan State, I believe he has made the biggest impact on me.”

Ross is one of the world's leading experts in biometrics, computer vision, pattern recognition, and machine learning. He has advocated for the responsible use of biometrics at events including the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Identity and Security and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee at U.N. Headquarters. He joined MSU in 2013.

His many awards include the West Virginia University's Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award for excellence in creative research, an NSF CAREER award, being designated a Kavli Fellow by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the inaugural International Association of Pattern Recognition (IAPR) Young Biometrics Investigator Award, and the prestigious IAPR J. K. Aggarwal Prize.

"It was clear that Dr. Ross was passionate about what he was teaching … and it rubbed off on us,” a student said. And another added: “Before I took his class, I was considering transferring out of computer science, but his class made me remember why I loved it in the first place.”

Hassan Khalil
Hassan Khalil

Hassan Khalil, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), is known as an excellent instructor who demonstrates his passion for teaching in all of his classes. His high level of enthusiasm as a teacher and mentor are evident in his interactions – a trait greatly appreciated by his undergraduate and graduate students.

He has been with the ECE department since 1978. His reputation as an excellent instructor is well-known. His evaluations in the Student Instructional Rating System (SIRS) forms are among the best in the department. He teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate level on Control Systems, Digital Control, Computer Aided Manufacturing, Linear Systems and Control, Nonlinear Systems and Control, and Adaptive Control, and he also teaches an online class on Linear Systems and Control in the department.

The comments collected from undergraduate and graduate students show they have a great appreciation and admiration for him: “Khalil is a great teacher!” “Best class ever taken in ECE.” “The explanations were top notch. Definitely well prepared. The course was well organized and lucid.”

Students also said: “One of the best, most well-taught classes I have had in a long time.” “Dr. Khalil provided a challenging and well-thought-out class.” “It was a joy interacting with him. I’m bummed I’ll never have another course with him even though it was very challenging.” “Exceptional instructor.” “Fantastic instructor, prolific researcher.” “I love the passion he has for this field.”

Patton Allison
Patton Allison

Patton Allison, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been a driving force behind the success and popularity of the undergraduate concentration in aerospace engineering. “Knowledgeable and passionate” are just two of the traits most commonly cited by his students. Allison joined MSU in 2017 and directs the Advanced Diagnostics and Combustion Lab, a place to start fires, shoot lasers, take pictures and learn about fire and flames. Some of his students are headed to graduate school because of his important influence on them. Those who are entering the aerospace industry directly after graduating feel that they are truly prepared for that experience because of the way in which Allison has guided their progress and depth of understanding. 

As one student said: “he is a dedicated professor who truly explains his courses," allowing his students to see not only the information that needs to be learned but its connection to the practice of engineering. He is available and enthusiastic to engage students in learning beyond required course material. Students consistently comment that "he really cares about his students and the subjects he teaches. His passion provides the necessary platform for students to enjoy learning.”

Join in the celebration - Read more on the  2020 Engineering Awards and 2020 Withrow Distinguished Scholars.