The 2012 Benjamin Smith Reynolds
Award for Excellence in Teaching
Geological Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Dante Fratta’s colleagues use such adjectives as enthusiastic, engaging, exceptional and innovative to describe his approach to teaching. His excellence as an instructor and mentor reverberate through every interaction with every student. “He is a committed teacher who makes learning exciting and rewarding, and is dedicated to inspiring and supporting his students,” says Craig Benson, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor and chair of geological engineering and civil and environmental engineering.
In class, Fratta establishes a rapport with each student, adeptly integrates research into his teaching, and applies a hands-on approach that ignites student interest in and comprehension of physical phenomena. Filled with such praises and compliments as, “Dante is awesome,” and “I will never forget this class,” the comment sections of his course evaluations are evidence of Fratta's unique ability to engage students.
Outside of class, he expends a tremendous amount of time and effort as a mentor to many students, including pre-college learners and students from underrepresented groups. His advice and assistance have inspired these students to broaden their perspective, develop personally and professionally, and reach their full potential. “He has demonstrated his commitment to helping students achieve their goals, and his aptitude for teaching and perceiving student comprehension is substantial,” says a graduate student. “His charisma and leadership are exemplary to the academic community and he plays an integral role to the future of academia.”
In addition to his commitment to individual students’ success, Fratta leverages knowledge and funding sources to continuously refine, or in some cases, completely re-envision, his teaching methods and courses. For example, he collaborated with Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Chin Wu to redesign Problem Solving Using Computer Tools (CEE/GLE 291) to include hands-on laboratory exercises that focus on applying Excel and MatLab as tools to help solve engineering problems. He acquired an instructional “shake table” and uses it in courses and outreach initiatives to introduces students and public audiences to earthquake-engineering concepts. He co-developed field courses through which students visit locations throughout the state, view real-world physical problems, and learn how to acquire data in the field. “Dante’s commitment to education goes beyond teaching the students in the lecture hall today,” says a current graduate student. “He is also looking ahead to give the university best practices for teaching the students of the future.”