The 2011 James G. Woodburn Award
for Excellence in Teaching
“It’s not always the case that a faculty member establishing herself as a research powerhouse can also manage as much dedication to student learning. Yet Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Irena Knezevic has proved she is not only capable of excelling in both the lab and the classroom, but that she thoroughly enjoys both roles. Her research credentials are extensive, especially considering she is only seven years into her academic career. She has received prestigious young faculty awards from the National Science Foundation and Air Force Office of Scientific Research and has accrued a long list of publications. ”She is the country’s leading scholar among an elite set of theorists tackling incredibly difficult predictive models and calculations in quantum electronic transport, including decoherence and relaxation in nanostructures, and heat transport at the nanoscale, says ECE Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke Professor and Chair John Booske.
Knezevic applies the same level of rigor she demonstrates in her research to developing new curriculum and methods to engage students in difficult topics. For more than two decades, faculty members have struggled to revamp Physics 244, Modern Physics, to better serve ECE students’ needs. Knezevic successfully addressed this challenge by creating ECE 235, Introduction to Solid State Electronics. In this new course, she established a clear set of learning objectives and a pedagogy that stems from keeping the student perspective closely in mind. ECE 235 relies heavily on visual tools and a wide range of examples to help students grasp concepts. “Professor Knezevic has found innovative ways to help students visualize concepts in quantum mechanics that are generally difficult to comprehend in the classical world we experience daily,” says a teaching assistant.
Her supplemental notes for ECE 235 include more than 150 pages of detailed lecture materials, proofs and examples. Students notice and appreciate Knezevic’s substantial class preparations. “I was in awe of her seemingly limitless knowledge of the course material; she could derive every relationship spontaneously without using notes and answer any question with such depth it made me wonder if she slept with the textbook under her pillow,” says a former student.
Knezevic’s passion for teaching comes through especially well in one-on-one meetings with students. Each year, Knezevic invites a select group of undergraduate students to participate in research with her Nanoelectronics Theory Group.