Professor Will Schleter was award the Excellence in Teaching Award at the 2022 UTK Academic Honors banquet. Prof. Schleter has 20+ years teaching in the Engineering Fundamentals Program. Over those 20 years, he has taught over 20,000 students and developed many Web-based tools to effectively and efficiently manage the large EF classes, including a comprehensive customized learning management system and “the grading machine.” Prof. Schleter noted, “I have been very fortunate to work in a position where I’ve had the opportunity and flexibility to make an impact on a very significant number of students. One of the greatest rewards is that I’ve been able to help transition the traditionally large, impersonal classes into classes that prioritize success and support for all students.”
Dr. Biegalski is active in service throughout the university. She serves as the liaison to the Engage Living and Learning Community. Several years ago, she started the Engage Leadership Team which supports programming in the LLC. She oversees both activities related to the LLC and organization of the Engage Leadership Team. She has also served on a number of important committees in the college, including the Diversity Advisory Committee, the TCE Scholarship Committee, and the Non-Tenure Track Policy Review Committee.
Thank you, Dr. B, for all that you do for EF and TCE!
The Dr. Richard Bennett Engineering Scholarship Program was established for full-time students engaged in the pursuit of an engineering (structural, architectural engineering, or related field) undergraduate or graduate degree at eligible colleges and universities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee.
The scholarship program was designed to support students pursuing a degree in the engineering field while encouraging innovative design, application, or utilization of manufactured concrete masonry and/or hardscape products.
The awards consist of up to five $1,000 scholarships for each academic year to five different schools.
Engineering Vols love it when a plan comes together.
TCE’s Engineering Fundamentals (EF) team created a wishlist for the design of classrooms in the Zeanah Engineering Complex. They shared the ways they wanted these spaces to work with building planners, and their input was utilized extensively.
The over-arching idea was for the spaces to welcome students into the world of engineering and to begin that experience from their first moments in class. They wanted to encourage group work that immediately engages students in collaboration.
“We didn’t want the traditional lecture hall, where students are just sitting and listening,” said Richard Bennett. “We wanted them actively involved in the learning.”
They now have the classrooms they imagined, and the approach has worked wonders in practice.
EF faculty looked at the ways other institutions applied their engineering pedagogy and how they used their teaching spaces. They tried out various aspects of this through use of large auditoriums in Strong Hall and the Mossman building. They saw the need for the space to allow students to learn from each other, as well as instructors.
“So that led to ‘no-front-of-the-classroom.’ That led to tables where students are working in teams of four to six, roughly,” said Bennett. “It’s very interesting in the classroom now—there’ll be some that work in two or three and then you get these groups that are moving chairs from the other table and they have eight there. And it’s all good.”
The flexibility of the space has helped the EF team hit a new stride—evident from their very first day in the ZEC classrooms.
“I teach three classes back to back, so with the 25 minutes between classes, you know, that’s about four hours that I’m in there,” said Bennett.
It was both taxing and exhilarating for him, especially following the pandemic year of classes via Zoom.
“I was physically exhausted but I was, emotionally, on a super high,” he said. “We just said, ‘Wow, this is working like we wanted it to.’ I’m in my 39th year of teaching and I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had—to see the energy of the students teaching each other, working together.”
The very size of these spaces is flexible, as well, offering the ability to host a full room 128 students collaborating in groups or—with the deployment of a few walls—offering more intimate spaces in which students can interact more closely with instructors during lab sessions.
Bennett points out the combination of elements that make it all work, from the flexibility of the rooms to the flexibility of the furniture. All of the tables and seating in the classrooms can be moved and arranged however it best serves the day’s purposes.
It’s also important that the groups of student working together at any given table can communication with other groups or the instructors via interactive multiple screens throughout the room.
“We’re sort of pushing the envelope here in a sense,” said Bennett. “The ability for me to not be tied to an HDMI cable, to be able to walk around—that’s really helpful. Students can use the monitor to write together, get on the internet, or a variety of things. We’re still, admittedly, figuring out the best way, all the capabilities and stuff, but it has really worked out well.”
It all comes together to produce the original desired effect: that students are learning in an active, collaborative way—and even teaching each other.
“I tell the students all the time that the best way to learn something is to teach it,” said Bennett. “If you’re helping somebody that’s struggling, that’s really helping you, too.”
In that way, the Volunteer Spirit echoes throughout the Zeanah Engineering Complex.
Dr. Amy Biegalski, known as “Dr. B,” to her students, learned to love teaching when she was a graduate student. Her time working as a teaching assistant and instructor of record at the Case School of Engineering first fostered her love for curriculum development and hands-on instruction. As she joined the workforce as a consulting engineer, Dr. B continued to seek teaching opportunities, taking time to instruct students at Pellissippi community college. When an opening came at the University of Tennessee, Dr. B decided to embrace her passion for teaching and joined UTK.
Before returning to teaching, Dr. Biegalski worked for several engineering firms, including URS in Baltimore and SAIC and Jacobs in Oak Ridge. Much of her work in the Northeast involved major bridge design, evaluation, and analysis, including using sensors, load tests, and finite element models to make rehabilitation recommendations. “I really enjoyed the hands-on part of engineering, which further developed my passion,” she says. “To me, being an engineer is exciting when you’re able to climb on a bridge, see it move, and feel it shake when trucks go over it.”
After her work with the SAIC bridge national practice, Dr. Biegalski moved to other equally fascinating positions. Upon moving to Tennessee, she focused on building analysis and design, serving as the lead structural design engineer for a 148,000 SF Air Force building in Oklahoma and the analyst for the safe decommissioning of the 1.6 million SF K25 building in Oak Ridge. She was involved in all aspects of design and analysis, including steel, concrete, masonry, foundations, and more.
For Dr. Biegalski, these tactile experiences make engineering more visceral and thrilling, and they give her a plethora of real-world examples to supplement and contextualize her instruction. In her courses, she strives to give students hands-on learning experiences, team projects, and context to deepen their learning.
Facing these true-to-life challenges in class helps students prepare for careers in the field. As Dr. Biegalski explains, “You can learn physics, and mechanics, and computer programming, without doing any of these things. But it’s a lot more engaging for the students if they’re working in teams, seeing how real-world things work, and navigating randomness, variability, and design constraints.”
Teamwork is particularly important to Dr. Biegalski. She believes that learning to collaborate with others is essential for success in engineering, and she takes a careful approach to team building in her classes. “We do a lot of activities around teamwork, like a team contract and teammate matching. After we do large activities, we have peer assessment within teams… If there’s some framework around it, and then all the teams can be a little more effective.”
Dr. Biegalski believes that working on teams also helps students appreciate how diverse ideas lead to better designs. “I think just by having them work with other students with diverse backgrounds, they learn that having more people produces better results,” she says. “It’s always a challenge to learn their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and figure out the team dynamic. But in the end, working as a team is always better.”
Dr. Biegalski’s team-based, hands-on approach brings her classes to life. She often uses dynamic tech-heavy projects to demonstrate concepts. For example, students learn to use robots, Raspberry Pis, and other equipment to explore programming functions.
“Robots work really well for programming… We start with running it on a square path where you say, ‘go straight and turn right.’ And you can repeat that multiple times. The students see that the robot never actually travels in a square path. That’s because, in the real world, things don’t do what you expect them to do.”
While having fun running robots, Dr. Biegalski’s students are also learning highly relevant concepts in engineering and technology today. Using sensors, images, and trained neural networks, students can program robots to avoid obstacles, which translates directly to the current rise of autonomous cars. “And so [students] can see that when they are programming their robots, they’re doing a lot of the things that autonomous cars are doing. We put video cameras on the robots so they can do image processing. They can read text, identify people and objects, and make decisions based on what the camera sees as well.”
Check out the video below to see Dr. Biegalski’s students at work!
Beyond autonomous cars, Dr. Biegalski thinks that the engineering industry is changing, and teaching strategies should adapt to meet new needs. Very few students stay with one career path after they graduate, and so instructors need to help students prepare for a wide variety of roles.“We need to prepare students to be very versatile,” she says. “As innovation increases, and our reliance on technology increases, students will have to be prepared with STEM skills [and] high tech skills, like knowledge of software and knowledge of computers. But then they also need the non-STEM skills, like business skills and communication skills, which are equally important.”
Dr. Biegalski also believes universities must rise to the occasion to prepare for and embrace an increasingly diverse workforce. “It’s important that we continue to reach out to people of diverse backgrounds,” she says. “So first-time college students, and ethnic minorities, and females. Whether that means we have more online classes or more satellite campuses, I think universities are needing to evolve drastically in order to bring in very different and diverse students and meet the needs of this innovative society.”
With instructors like Dr. Biegalski on the task, we know that the future is bright!
Interview quotes have been edited for length and clarity
Cheryl Huskey took the front desk position as administrative associate for our engage Engineering Fundamentals program this year, managing day-today operations for the office that welcomes first-year Engineering Vols to campus.
“I love to help people and I try to bring my best to my role every day,” she said. “Students, faculty, and staff can see me for almost anything. I am always willing to help and serve others.”
Huskey grew up in Knoxville cheering on UT Vols football, and loves to give her all for the university.
“I love that I work with amazing faculty and staff who are just as passionate about the University of Tennessee as I am,” she said. “I believe that resonates throughout the college as well.”
Huskey has been at UT for 22 years, and previously worked with the Volshop, at first in the general books department.
“I found a passion working with books,” she said. Then I moved to course materials, where I learned a lot of the administrative side of textbooks. I also oversaw special orders, in which I ordered books for several different departments across campus.”
Huskey is an avid reader and dabbles in creative writing. She is also is an amateur photographer and plays the piano and flute.
“Of course, I couldn’t go without saying I love my Vols!” she added.
Huskey enjoys spending time with her extensive family.
“My mom and dad have been married for 54 years,” she said. Her brother and sister and their spouses have given her 11 nieces and nephews, including two great nieces.
“My family and I are very close, and we spend a lot of time together,” said Huskey. “I love having a such a strong support system.”
“It has been an honor to have been director of Engineering Fundamentals for the past 13 years,” said Bennett. “One of the highlights for me has been working with such a good team and the camaraderie we have had. The best thing, though, has been all the good and fun students. I have really enjoyed being able to help and guide them through their first year.
“I am pleased to turn the leadership over to Dr. Rachel Ellestad. She has been involved in all parts of our program, from a student to a graduate teaching assistant to the faculty. She brings an incredible knowledge of the program, a strong background in engineering education, and a real passion for students. I am confident the program will continue to grow under her leadership.”
Ellestad said she is very grateful for the opportunity to step up and serve.
“EF is full of passionate faculty, staff, and student helpers whose primary goal is to support the success of engineering students in the college. I am excited about the opportunity to support our culture of innovation in the education of future engineers. As we move into the Zeanah Engineering Complex in the fall, I am looking forward to seeing the creativity and innovation our unit will bring to our EF classes and student support systems.”
Bennett has served as director of the program since 2008. Under his leadership, the program nearly doubled the number of students it serves as well as incorporated a large number of educational innovations that have led to continual improvements over time, including the EF Study Room, the flipped classroom approach many of the EF courses now use, and, along with Distinguished Lecturer Will Schleter, the initial development of the Innovation and Collaboration Studio.
“I look forward to continue to teach in Engineering Fundamentals and to have more time to interact with the students,” Bennett said. “Moving to the Zeanah Engineering Complex is very exciting and it will be fun to teach in the space that we spent so much time designing.”
Bennett oversaw a dramatic growth in both student population and faculty and staff numbers in the program over the last 10 years. He was also instrumental in the design of the Engineering Fundamentals space in the Zeanah Engineering Complex.
“I want to thank Dick for his years of leadership and service in EF and am grateful he will be continuing to serve as an integral part of our teaching staff,” said Ellestad.
engage was developed after an intensive study of methods to improve the first-year student experience and increase student retention rates. The program has won national acclaim, including recognition by the National Science Foundation as one of the best and most innovative engineering education programs in the nation.
EF Lecturer, Betsy Chesnutt, along with three Tickle College of Engineering faculty members, have been selected to join the inaugural cohort of UT’s faculty fellows for technology-enhanced teaching. UT Teaching and Learning Innovation and the Office of the Provost launched this program to help prepare UT educators for teaching this fall. The fellows will work through October 2020 in a mix of consultations, group sessions, and on the development of web-based and asynchronous resources in collaboration with Teaching and Learning Innovation and OIT staff.