Applying a teaching philosophy that engages and inspires each student, Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Chin Wu has turned one of the most difficult and dreaded undergraduate environmental courses in the department into one of the most anticipated. His students frequently punctuate course evaluation forms with such comments as, “Best teacher I ever had,” “Cared about how every student did,” “Made complex ideas easy to understand,” and, “We love you, Wu!”
He is a highly accomplished theoretical, numerical, laboratory and field researcher in environmental fluid mechanics, focusing on air-sea interactions, physical-chemical-biological interactions in inland lakes, and contaminated sediments in rivers and lakes. To teach the fundamentals of fluid mechanics, Wu marries the language of applied mathematics with practical physical demonstrations that bring immediate relevancy to the abstract concept at hand.
Wu captures students’ interest—even when the topic seems less than interesting. He compiled a series of videos, Observations of Life in Fluids, that students in his course produced. These videos bridge the mathematics of fluid mechanics with examples of real-world fluids. He redeveloped his undergraduate lab course to include computer-aided experiments that allow his students to more effectively see and study fluid behaviors, and he implemented sophisticated flow visualization techniques so that students could see the beauty of fluid flow and more deeply understand its mechanics. “The professor did not allow a single student to get away with doing any less than the best work they were capable of,” says a former student who credits Wu with shaping his own educational path. “For students like myself, many were able to realize more potential as an engineer.”
Wu regularly provides out-of-class small-group tutoring, meets one-on-one with students to ensure they understand the correct answer to every incorrectly answered exam question, and hosts drop-in consultations at virtually any hour of the day.
He has been a mentor for the Wisconsin Multicultural Mentor Program and the Summer Collegiate Experience Program. He advises the UW-Madison Concrete Canoe Team and frequently performs math and science demonstrations in K-12 classrooms. Wu counts among his many teaching honors six consecutive Polygon outstanding instructor awards, five outstanding civil and environmental engineering professor awards from students in the UW-Madison chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and, most recently, the UW-Madison “Class of 1955” teaching award.