Excellence in Teaching Awards

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Lee College of Engineering has awarded its top honors for teaching, the Undergraduate and Graduate Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2019. The winner of the undergraduate teaching award is Dr. Regina Vrikkis of the Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science Department. The winner of the graduate teaching award is Dr. Jake Smithwick of the Engineering Technology and Construction Management Department.

Dr. Regina Vrikkis
“As a teacher, it is my responsibility to reach all … students,” Dr. Vrikkis said. “At the end of the course, I want them to have mastered the course objectives, but I also want them to have the confidence that they can succeed in engineering after they have walked out of my class. To achieve this, I must give students different types of tools to master the material to target different types of learners.”

The learning tools Dr. Vrikkis provides includes short, bite-sized, fast-paced videos she produces. She makes sure all instructional materials, including videos, problem statements and homework assignments are provided ahead of time, so that students who want to attempt problems before class can do so. She also allows students to take pictures of lecture notes, because some students get distracted trying to write everything down during class.

“I love teaching. Every day, I am grateful that I get to do what I do,” Dr. Vrikkis said. “Having the opportunity to help students gain the knowledge and self confidence needed to become successful engineers is a very rewarding experience. My hope is the joy I take in teaching helps develop a passion for engineering in my students.”

A few comments from Dr. Vrikkis’s students include:

There's a reason Dr. Vrikkis is renowned for her ability to teach thermodynamics. Not only is she very knowledgeable, but she is very effective at communicating and sharing her expertise. I really like the fact that she had note templates for each section of the class. This made learning in class actually possible instead of just rapid note taking like in other classes.

The pre-class videos that Dr. Vrikkis creates are above and beyond the call of duty. She makes every effort for students to learn the subject matter, even with the problems a 50-minute class period causes. Every example is clear and she is always ready to provide a better explanation for something.

She is probably the best teacher I have ever had. She has excellent methods of studying and wants each student to pass. She is very understanding and makes sure the students know the material before continuing. I had issues with test taking and she was super reassuring and took time to help me understand the material.

Dr. Jake Smithwick
“My teaching philosophy is to provide students with the highest quality of education, founded on best practices and sound theoretical frameworks,” Dr. Smithwick said. “Integrating real-project experiences into lectures and labs is a key component of how I teach and the foundation of my courses.”

Dr. Smithwick makes sure he gets to know every student during the course of a semester, which builds trust and forms the basis of a mentoring relationship. Through class interaction, as well as through assignments and exams, he observes students strengths and weaknesses to determine the most effective teaching methods for individuals.

“I believe it is crucial to prepare students for successful careers in the built environment through superb instruction founded on industry experience,” Dr. Smithwick said. “Therefore, I strive to integrate this construct into course material. I recognize that students have unique needs and varying levels of aptitude, requiring a degree of individualized instruction.”

A few comments from Dr. Smithwick’s students include:

Such a brilliant teacher and a human being. He makes the class very interesting. He has incredible teaching methods and keeps a very healthy environment in class for everyone.

Dr. Smithwick is an excellent professor. He brings real-world examples to class and assigns relevant class and homework.

The instructor of this course was extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter. Each class included useful information that can be applied to research being performed for one's thesis.