Thermodynamics duo wins teaching award

Professors Janet Elliott and Anastasia Elias have won the 2016 Provost’s Unit Teaching Award.

(Edmonton) Passionate teachers beget passionate students. This might be the motto of two outstanding educators, Janet Elliott, and Anastasia Elias, professors in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, who received the Unit Teaching Award for the work that they have done together instructing CHE 243, Engineering Thermodynamics.

Both Elliott and Elias commend the positive teaching environment in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering. “There are many excellent teachers in our department who have inspired us and we teach CHE 243 with a great team of professors, teaching assistants and graders.”

Elliott’s and Elias’ enthusiasm to pass on what they love—and teach—is beyond contagious: students say that Elliott can convince a rock to study thermodynamics.

“I eat, sleep, and breathe thermodynamics. I love how it is related to all the different things in engineering,” says Elliott. This passion, paired up with a profound understanding of the subject matter and its multiple applications, is one of many things that make Elliott’s and Elias’ teaching effective. With their backgrounds in engineering physics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, biomaterials, and nanotechnology, Elliott and Elias can relate to all kinds of engineering students.

For both Elliott and Elias, thermodynamics lies at the very heart of all aspects of engineering and they take their job of teaching it very seriously. Their course is a first real encounter with the subject for many undergraduate students, and, as we all know, the first impressions are fundamental.

“I feel responsible for what students will think of entropy for the rest of their lives, so it’s really important to set them on the right path,” says Elliott. To this end, they have invested a lot of time and effort into developing organised and informative lecture material, as well as making a new online homework component of the course as efficient as possible.

‘’Last year, we received funding from the Centre for Teaching and Learning and the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering to hire a student so we could develop assignments with him that were put on eClass. Our assignments have an online component, which allow students to practice basic concepts and receive immediate feedback, and a written component which includes more challenging questions.” says Elias.

As problems are graded automatically in the online system, teaching assistants who previously would have been busy grading were reassigned to staff a help desk (open 11.5 hours per week) to assist students with the course material. “So they can email profs, they can go to prof’s office hours, they can go to the help desk, and they can go to seminars where there’s extra practice with problems,” says Elliott. 

The initiative received positive feedback from students. “One reason why we do a good job in 243 is that we are always learning from what we did the previous year and always trying to make everything a little bit better,” says Elliott.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of teaching for Elias is the difference she makes in lives of young engineers.

‘’I feel great when I know that I had an impact on students, if I helped them to learn something or to figure something out, or to get them excited about a concept or a problem. I find that very rewarding,” says Elias. Elias started teaching when she joined the faculty in 2008 as an assistant professor with the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering.   

The biggest challenges of teaching at the University of Alberta, according to Elliott, are maintaining productive communication with students in the ever-growing classrooms, and managing ever-increasing volumes of administrative and research responsibilities. Despite this, both Elias and Elliott always find a way to connect. “If you value teaching, and you value students, then you find a way,” says Elliott.

When it comes to being an excellent educator, Elias believes in commitment and enthusiasm.

“If you are dedicated and you put in the time, then it’s going to come through and students are going to respond positively. If you show up and you are enthusiastic and prepared, and you care, then the students can sense it,” she says.  

And they do, as both Elliott and Elias have a lot of passion for what they do.

Faculty of Engineering Teaching Awards

The Faculty of Engineering celebrated teaching excellence today, presenting professors and graduate students with prestigious Faculty of Engineering teaching Awards for their dedication to student success.

L.E. Gads Teaching Assistant Nominees

Kevin Hodder (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

Janeen Ogloza (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Ward Newman (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Benjamin Cheung (Mechanical)

Graduate Student Teaching Awards

Jerome Ang (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

John Hawk (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

Ryan McGee (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

Meisam Nouri (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

Mark Curley (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Mohamed Meshref  (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Janeen Ogloza (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Maedeh Roodpeyma (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Henry Brausen (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Jeremy Kerr-Wilson (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Andrew Longman (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Benjamin Wiltshire (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Benjamin Cheung (Mechanical Engineering)

Babak Soltannia (Mechanical Engineering)

Henry Yu (Mechanical Engineering)

Faculty of Engineering Undergraduate Teaching Awards

Petr Nikrityuk (Chemical and Materials Engineering)

Carlos Cruz-Noguez (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Sandipan Pramanik (Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Kajsa Duke (Mechanical Engineering)

Faculty of Engineering Research Award

Tony Qiu (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Tian Tang (Mechanical Engineering)