Professor Wei Fan of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department and Professor David Schmidt of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department are the two College of Engineering recipients of the 2024 UMass Amherst Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA), which honors the finest tradition of consummate teaching, as nominated by campus students and selected by a committee of past DTA winners. 

Since 1961, UMass Amherst has presented the DTA to instructors who demonstrate excellent teaching at the highest level. This highly competitive and prestigious honor is the only student-initiated, campus-wide teaching award and is administered by the UMass Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Fan, Schmidt, and the other 2024 DTA recipients were recognized at the University Faculty Honors Dinner on May 2nd.

Fan is the Edward S. Price Faculty Fellow in Chemical Engineering. According to a bio released by the CTL, he is also an iCons (Integrated Concentration in STEM) Teaching Fellow and a past recipient of the College of Engineering Outstanding Teaching Award. He teaches classes across the graduate and undergraduate curriculum on thermodynamics and chemical-reaction engineering. 

In his teaching, as the CTL bio explains, “Fan focuses on developing students’ interdisciplinary problem-solving skills to help them prepare to tackle the complex issues that have emerged at the intersection of engineering, medicine, and policy in their future careers. To do this, he incorporates assignments into his courses that require self-reflection and peer-reflection in addition to other student-centered teaching methods such as low-stakes concept quizzes.” 

The CTL bio adds that, in both Fan’s teaching and advising, students praise his ability to make certain that students from all backgrounds feel supported. As one student says, “Whether through hands-on experiments, interactive discussions, or multimedia presentations, Professor Fan tailors his teaching approach to cater to the unique preferences and abilities of each student.” 

Another student notes that Fan’s “genuine approach allows him effectively to teach students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, serving as a strong example of how professors should engage with their students.” 

The CTL bio for Schmidt explains that he is a past winner of the student-selected Mechanical Engineering Instructor of the Year Award and a winner of the College of Engineering Outstanding Teaching Award. He teaches a range of undergraduate and graduate courses, including first-year courses, large upper-division courses, and a senior capstone course. 

“In his teaching,” says the CTL bio, “Professor Schmidt creates multiple opportunities for students to participate and engage with course material, whether through informal polling in class…or through building-in a section on global warming to connect the concepts of heat transfer to real-world challenges.”

As one student observes in the CTL bio, through these efforts, Schmidt “always made it a true joy to come to class and had the special ability to make a large lecture hall feel like a small discussion session.”

According to the CTL blurb, Schmidt also stresses the importance of connecting with students in office hours or even on short walks across campus, all “to foster a sense that all students are deserving of my attention and support,” as he says. 

As another example of such support, one student recalls that, when he needed guidance, “Professor Schmidt chose to give me the opportunity to accept assistance while also allowing me a safe place to learn on my own.” 

Tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, and graduate teaching assistants are eligible for the DTA award, and the names of honorees are inscribed on the DTA memorial wall in the Integrative Learning Center. In addition, faculty recipients are each awarded $3,500. (May 2024)

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