Feb. 1, 2022
Students select winners of highly-prized Withrow Teaching Awards
Students in the MSU College of Engineering have again nominated their favorite faculty members for the highly prized annual Withrow Teaching Excellence Awards. The teaching distinction is for distinguished service to the university and the student body.
The honors are part of the annual Withrow Endowed Award program, which was established through a gift from Jack Withrow (BS, MECH EGR, ’54; MBA ’71) and Dottie Withrow (BA, speech therapy and elementary education, ’55).
The awards will be presented on Monday, March 21, during a 5:30 p.m. banquet at the University Club.
The 2022 Withrow Teaching Excellence Awards recipients are:
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering – Chris Saffron
Associate Professor Chris Saffron is an excellent educator, who brings sustained passion and care to all his courses and interactions with students. He regularly teaches BE 351, Thermodynamics for Biological Engineering, a challenging course for students, which equips them with an understanding of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics; and BE 469, Sustainable Bioenergy Systems, which teaches biorefinery analysis, system design, life-cycle assessment, and bioeconomy. He has a strong desire for student success and brings vast knowledge, enthusiasm, and general excitement about all the topics he teaches into the classroom. Students say he: “was an incredible resource for the senior design project...”; “...was the most effective and enthusiastic teacher that I have ever had”; “...was kind and helpful in our interactions.” Also, he would “...ensure that those who want to learn will be given the opportunity.” “The excitement is always there whenever he teaches.”
Biomedical Engineering – Sudin Bhattacharya
Assistant Professor Sudin Bhattacharya is a recognized scholar in cellular and computational toxicology and an innovative teacher who effectively transfers knowledge gained through his creative research to students. His pioneering research has been funded by multiple federal grants, including NIH R01 and US EPA STAR. He has been an educator and innovator in MSU’s new Department of Biomedical Engineering since 2017. He has provided an exceptional learning environment and enthusiasm for the material taught in the BME 891 (graduate level). Students compliment his availability and his offers to help after class. His lectures integrate frontier biological concepts with computational studies seamlessly. Students say he is very knowledgeable and organizes his lectures well. His recent student rating is 4.0 (on a 1‐4 scale, with 4 being the best). Students like his lectures, and they appreciate his “tremendous efforts.”
Chemical Engineering and Materials Science – Carl Lira
Associate Professor Carl Lira is a dedicated educator who ensures that students have what they need to be successful learners. Whether he is teaching a new course or switching to the virtual environment, students were impressed by his adaptability, approachability, and deep knowledge of course content. Over and over, students noted his willingness to provide additional materials and review difficult concepts to make sure that students truly understand. Students cited his efforts to create a positive learning environment in every class that he teaches. His emphasis is on teamwork and collaboration - even dedicating time to teach students how to work with others. As one student expressed, “he is always trying to help the students in whatever way possible, whether it is providing supplements to his lectures or reviewing material that several students had questions on.” As one student stated, he “leads by example by treating students with empathy, respect and kindness.”
Civil and Environmental Engineering – Susan Masten
This is the third time that Professor Susan Masten has won the Withrow Teaching Excellence Award. She brings a combination of research and practical experience into her teaching, which has proven invaluable to the students she instructs. As one student stated: “She cares so much about her students!! She responds to emails really fast, is always willing to offer help and extra support. She constantly is giving us job opportunities and is inspiring us to be our best selves!! Best professor I've ever had.” Another student noted that the weekly check in on her student's mental health created an effective learning environment and made sure students understood their work during lectures and labs. “Dr. Masten is quite possibly the most knowledgeable, organized, and understanding professor I have had during my schooling at MSU.” “Dr. Masten makes every effort to make the classroom an enjoyable place to be and, importantly, a place conducive to learning.”
Computer Science and Engineering – Charles Owen
Associate Professor Charles Owen is a five-time winner of this award, a record for the CSE department. He wins these awards despite teaching many of the required, high enrollment (over 750 in 2021), and most technically demanding courses while setting extremely high expectations. He creates award-winning learning experiences by combining three key ingredients: a genuine concern for student success; development and use of innovative learning tools, and an ability to organize and communicate a large amount of highly technical information in a remarkably clear and coherent manner. The “Charles Owen Experience” is perhaps best captured by his students who say: "carefully structures his courses and allows students to learn through both instruction and self progression.” "He is the most communicative professor of any I have and answers a multitude of questions daily.” "Able to refine and structure extremely advanced topics.” "Course content for core CSE classes have levels of quality that go above and beyond the expected level.”
Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering – Yang Yang
Assistant Professor Yang Yang has taught both graduate and undergraduate courses since joining the department in 2017. Students in his CMSE 820 Mathematical Foundations of Data Science in the 2021 Fall semester strongly recommended him for this prestigious award. More than 65 percent of students ranked his course exceptional in the SIRS survey. All the class contents were approached in a very lucid and sound mathematical way. He also carefully designed the homework assignments to enhance students’ learning experiences. Homework questions were designed in such a way that the students could draw new insights or see the problem from a different perspective. He always held office hours with enthusiasm to help students with homework problems. Based on the students’ testimonies, the midterm and the final exam problems were designed to be very interesting. In summary, the students were highly satisfied with the learning experiences and strongly recommended him for the Withrow Teaching Excellence Award.
Electrical and Computer Engineering – Tim Hogan
Professor Tim Hogan is an excellent instructor and demonstrates his passion for teaching in all of his classes. His high level of enthusiasm is evident in his interactions with students. Since joining the department in 1998, he has demonstrated exemplary dedication to undergraduate and graduate education. His evaluations in the Student Instructional Rating System are among the best in the department. In addition, he was instrumental in developing best practices, guidelines and tutorials for offering online graduate courses for the newly established ECE online master’s degree. Comments from students show their appreciation and admiration: “I was impressed with Professor Hogan's level of knowledge and the ease with which he answers questions. He was open to additional conversations about science, which made me feel heard and understood.” “He is an amazing person. He is kind, and he cares about his students.” “I hope I get to have him again as he is a truly great professor.”
Mechanical Engineering – Michael Lavagnino
Academic Specialist Michael Lavagnino is described by many of his students as “a professor who takes the time to care and understand his students’ needs and desires outside the classroom.” Students are quick to say: “He really wants all his students to do well” no matter what time of day his class is offered. “He does his best to engage all of the students and tries to create a passion for the subjects in all of them.” “Dr. Lavagnino is always available to help his students succeed.” His interests do not stop at the classroom. During the Covid pandemic, he was quick to transition to online teaching, minimizing stress on his students. As a student remarked: “It was one of the Zoom classes that I actually didn’t mind going to!” He “explains simply and understandably, accommodates when needed, and cares about the well-being of his students.”
Join the celebration! Read more on the 2022 MSU Engineering Awards that also honored Dedicated and Creative Service/Spartans Will, Diversity and Service Awards, and Distinguished Scholar Awards.