Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2016

Faculty Award winner

Dennis Filler

 College of Engineering & Computer Science

 Civil, Environmental, & Construction Engineering

Since the Industrial Revolution U.S. universities have been producing assembly-line engineers, technically astute but weak in management skills. Traditionally, engineers have not been good managers and business owners. Then, in the late 1970s, academic decision makers decided that engineering schools should progress toward profit-centered business models. Recent state legislations favored the 4-year (instead of 5) baccalaureate engineering degree model, which effectively reduced the required number of degree credits. Together, these changes have led to greater emphasis on the development of graduate programs for the sake of revenues, diminished undergraduate education quality, and loss of competitiveness with regard to science, technology, and engineering advances. University curriculum committees, forced with hard realities, have cut non-technical content in favor of the more technical material. However, industry highly regards engineers with strong communication (oral and written) and economic skills; they make better managers and leaders. Today, with globalization, the advent of mega- and multi-national engineering ventures, and failing infrastructure, we need more translational engineers and better leaders. We need engineers with the ability to convey technical information across disciplines and to laypeople, at the forefront of innovation, infrastructure policy, and decision making.

My teaching focus is undergraduate education. Philosophically, I aspire to prepare students for the real world with an equal emphasis on technical and non-technical knowledge of engineering.

The two most important aspects of delivery in the classroom are enthusiasm and articulation. The ability to convey information effectively, with passion, sets the tone for a vibrant and engaging learning environment. My teaching style embodies energetic interactive lectures/discussions, with related assignments integrated with industry experience and/or contemporary issues. I emphasize the importance of critical thinking in problem solving and introduce sustainable engineering practices at every opportunity.

For example, consider the aspect of critical thinking. Generally, engineers are wired for applied learning. We apply what it is we learn, again and again, to become proficient at it. Further, while solving an engineering problem for a specified set of conditions has some appeal, its value is greatly enhanced when the student reworks the problem for various conditions or different applications, what I call 'scenario-based problem solving.' By challenging students with conventional and multi-disciplinary scenario-based problems, conceptual understanding is enhanced, and students become more adept at engineering solutions and better able to translate the information to non-engineers (e.g., clients).

As a second example, consider sustainable engineering practice (or SEP) for the construction industry. Integral to the civil engineer's code of ethics, SEP implies consideration for life-cycle economics and awareness of environmental liability for a world with growing demands for limited resources. Thus, it is imperative we teach waste management and recycling capacity when we make decisions with regards to civil engineering design and use of materials. Life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA), repurpose design, and waste recycling are examples of contemporary concepts I expose our students to whenever possible.