Eight faculty honored for distinguished service to students

March 20, 2023

Students select winners of 2023 Withrow Teaching Awards

Spartan Engineering 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 at the 2023 Engineering Awards banquet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at the University Club.

Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Associate Professor Dawn Dechand is recognized by students as one of the most helpful and committed instructors they have encountered at MSU. She teaches both required and elective undergraduate courses, and she goes the extra mile to be available and helpful to her students.

Dawn Dechand
Dawn Dechand

She offers multiple weekly help sessions outside of her class and makes herself available to students via multiple modes of contact, in-person or virtual. Students particularly appreciate the pace of course material delivery in her courses. Her creativity and dedication to teaching is evidenced by the redesign of BE 332 to better meet student needs. 

Students said: “Dr. Dechand offered multiple honors options for her class to help work with the students to develop their skills and test their knowledge. She incorporates all disciplinary application areas into her core course, allowing students to explore their different professional interests. Dr. Dechand is caring and considerate of student schedules, often adjusting her course calendar to the needs of her students. The atmosphere she creates facilitates a better learning relationship. She cares about students as individuals.”

Biomedical Engineering
Assistant Professor Brian Johnson is an interdisciplinary researcher who engages students in a broad range of biomedical engineering topics. His NIH-funded research applies digital manufacturing tools (primarily CAD, CAM, and CNC machining) to construct biomimetic models of human development and disease.

Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson

He leverages his experience patenting and commercializing technologies to cultivate entrepreneurial interests and skills in his students. He applies scientific teaching pedagogy he learned via a Howard Hughes Medical Institute teaching fellowship to develop an inclusive, goal-oriented, and engaging teaching philosophy that he applies in the classroom. 

He also drives students to be forward-thinking about their career goals by organizing career panels and encouraging students to identify the skills and experiences needed to pursue their own unique career interests. (Note: because BME does not have undergraduate students, only graduate students were invited to participate in the Teaching Excellence Award survey.)

Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Professor Donald Morelli is a committed educator who ignites a passion for materials science among his students and works hard to ensure they understand difficult course material.

As one student expressed, “He taught me many life lessons and has prepared me to be ready for the world outside of college. He has impacted me to push myself to my limits, and he has instilled in me that I can accomplish anything with determination and passion.” 

Donald Morelli
Donald Morelli

Students praised Morelli’s dedication to ensuring that they truly understand often-difficult material and tailoring classes to their needs. They felt that he challenges them intellectually while also creating an environment where they feel cared for and encouraged to ask questions. 

Students remark on his “obvious enjoyment of his work.” Beyond course material, they also cited his mentorship and encouragement outside of the classroom. “He deserves this award more than anyone because he proved to me, he was an even better person outside the classroom.”

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Assistant Professor Kaisen Lin is passionate about teaching and is committed to the success of his students. He understands the challenges students face, including changes that have occurred in teaching and learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He tries to teach courses in the way that he would like to be taught as a student.

Kaisen Lin
Kaisen Lin

His efforts have created a welcoming and engaging environment. He explains class material and answers questions clearly, making himself available to students inside and outside of the classroom. He also listens to students’ feedback.

He has shown to be a caring and compassionate professor who strives to provide his students with the best learning atmosphere. That includes improving his teaching style and techniques, and updating course materials to better fit today’s environmental engineers. 

One student noted, “Dr. Lin was very helpful, offered flexible office hours and answered all questions in class well.” Another explained, “I just about never left class confused about what we went over that day because Professor Lin's teaching style was very effective.”

Computer Science and Engineering
Associate Professor Borzoo Bonakdarpour is being recognized for his ability to engage and motivate students in one of the department’s most abstract and challenging introductory courses, CSE 260, Discrete Structures. 

Borzoo Bonakdarpour
Borzoo Bonakdarpour

Historically, many students struggle with the course due to lack of motivation. An engaging instructor, Bonakdarpour has reinvigorated this course with his dynamic, student-centered teaching approach. 

As one student writes: “Dr. Bonakdarpour does an excellent job of interacting and engaging with his Discrete Structures lecture every class session. He demonstrates the material very effectively while also keeping it entertaining. He is a very available instructor between office hours as well as answering questions in and after class.” 

He is dedicated not only to his students but to his teaching staff too. His Twitter account feed is filled with fun comments from him and his TAs, emphasizing the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering
Professor Elizabeth Munch is an exceptional educator. She has taught a range of courses, from introductory courses for non-majors to specialized graduate-level courses. 

Elizabeth Munch
Elizabeth Munch

According to student evaluations, she is organized, articulate, and provides plenty of examples in her lectures that truly improve students’ understanding. Students describe her as being very fun, relatable, and curious, making her classes enjoyable for students. 

A poll of the undergraduate and graduate students in the department clearly identified her as one of the outstanding educators in the department. Student nominators described her as a “very supportive, understanding teacher ... a super professor.”

She consistently receives some of the highest numerical evaluations from CMSE students. Her genuine care for her students goes beyond the classroom, as well, and she is one of the most outstanding student mentors in our department.

Students report that her classes can be challenging but well worth the effort – connecting with students during office hours and addressing questions and concerns in class.

Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor Bahare Kiumarsi is an excellent instructor. Her reputation of excellence is well-known in her undergraduate and graduate classes. Her evaluations in the Student Instructional Rating System (SIRS) forms are among the best in the department. 

Bahare Kiumarsi
Bahare Kiumarsi

Her high level of enthusiasm is evident in her interactions with students, and the comments collected from undergraduates: “The instructor spent the class time teaching the material and wasted no time. The instructor was very clear and precise about everything. This was the best professor I have had at MSU. The organization for this class for perfect. The course website on D2L, lectures, notes, exams, and quizzes were organized extremely well. This professor made a tough semester easier.”

Other student comments included: “Possibly my favorite professor I've had the pleasure of taking a class with. She was highly receptive to students. I went to her office hours to review an exam which was a great experience as we went through my mistakes which served as an excellent learning opportunity. Professor Kiumarsi clearly was passionate about the content and helping the students learn the material.”

Mechanical Engineering
Associate Professor Rebecca Anthony is described as a professor who is “welcoming, optimistic, and friendly - and a person who takes the time to check on the wellbeing of her students.”

Rebecca Anthony
Rebecca Anthony

Her classes, while focusing on engineering issues, move beyond the topics and generate community in the assembled group. Students describe her ability to make personal engagement an integral part of the educational process. 

One student remarked: “I felt as though I was learning from a person and not a screen.” For students who were transferring to MSU (especially into an online environment), she has given them the support needed to make the leap to a new level of academia. Transfer students have remarked that they could not have asked for a better first impression of the mechanical engineering program. 

Another nominator noted: Covid created many problems for students and faculty alike, but Anthony always cared. The mental health of her students was at the forefront of her dedication to their learning. For these reasons and many more, she is a worthy recipient of this award.