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College honors faculty and staff

At the 2008 Appreciation Day celebration May 8, the College of Engineering announced awards to faculty and staff members for their outstanding contributions and achievements, and service to the college.

Polygon Engineering Council Teaching Awards

The faculty and staff winners of the Polygon Teaching Awards, which are chosen by engineering undergraduates, are:


  • Biomedical Engineering Professor Emeritus John Webster and Teaching Assistant Amit J. Nimunkar
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Thatcher Root and Teaching Assistant Eric M. Saurer
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Chin-Hsien Wu and Teaching Assistant Eric G. Booth
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering Faculty Associate Michael Morrow and Teaching Assistant Robert W. Hejny
  • Engineering Professional Development Assistant Faculty Associate Roger Black
  • Engineering Professional Development Associate Faculty Associate Traci Nathans-Kelly
  • Engineering Physics Associate Professor Robert Witt and Teaching Assistant Elizabeth Bergman
  • Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Harry Steudel and Teaching Assistant Hao Zhang
  • Materials Science and Engineering Senior Lecturer Jay Samuel
  • Mechanical Engineering Faculty Associate Glenn Bower and Teaching Assistant Kristin L. Ebert

University of Wisconsin-Madison awards

Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Regina Murphy and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Trina McMahon received 2008 Distinguished Teaching Awards from UW-Madison. Murphy received the Chancellor's Award and McMahon received the Class of 1955 Award.

The Wisconsin Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership, College, School or Larger University was awarded to Sandra Arnn, assistant dean for Engineering Career Services.

Senior Information Processing Consultant Kevin Eliceiri earned a 2008 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, Independent Investigator.

The Hilldale Award was awarded to Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor James Dumesic.

The H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship was awarded to Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor James Schauer.

College of Engineering faculty and staff awards

Kelly Burton

The Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award—
Kelly Burton, Senior Student Services Coordinator

From before they enroll at UW-Madison to beyond their graduation, Kelly Burton strives to create a positive, personal experience for underrepresented minority graduate students in the College of Engineering.

A senior student services coordinator, Burton joined the college in 1999 to implement the Graduate Engineering Scholars Program, or GERS. At that time, based on Rice University Professor Richard Tapia’s mentorship model, GERS began as a five-year pilot program with the UW-Madison Graduate School. Its goals were to increase underrepresented minority enrollment in and graduation rates from graduate programs within the College of Engineering. “When I ask a chemical engineer from Puerto Rico or a black mechanical engineer from Tennessee what motivates them to come to Madison, they often respond that, although it is the merit of our departments that drew them to UW-Madison, it is the feeling that they would be cared for and belong to a community that made them feel like they could live in Madison,” says a current student. “None of that exists without Kelly.”

Burton recruits students to the program. She tracks their applications and connects them with a faculty member whose research interests match their own. Before the students arrive on campus, Burton works with the Graduate School and engineering faculty to ensure GERS students have funding for the duration of their degree program. Through lectures, workshops, social events and regular group meetings, she repeatedly demonstrates her tireless commitment to the emotional, physical and mental well-being of each student. “Kelly has helped to foster a tightly knit, supportive community among the GERS students that erases feelings of isolation that many diversity students encounter at UW-Madison,” says one former student. “As a result, diversity students are more likely to complete their graduate studies at UW-Madison.”

In addition, Burton maintains contact with GERS alumni, both to celebrate their successes and offer encouragement and opportunities, but also to draw on their graduate school experiences as mentors for new GERS participants.

Under Burton, GERS is accomplishing the goals set forth at its inception. In the College of Engineering, enrollment of underrepresented minority graduate students increased from 18 in fall 1999 to 51 students in fall 2005; from 2000 through December 2007, 32 students earned master’s degrees and 19 students earned PhD degrees. Of those PhD recipients, four have accepted faculty positions, two are postdoctoral fellows, and 13 are working in industry, government agencies or at national laboratories. The Graduate School has promoted the GERS model to other UW-Madison schools and colleges; as a result, the College of Letters and Science, School of Education, and jointly the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the School of Medicine and Public Health have worked with Burton to establish similar programs. Says a UW-Madison colleague: “She knows the field of diversity not only in theory, but in practice, and not only in her head, but in her heart and on the ground as well.”

James Blanchard

Harvey Spangler Award for Technology Enhanced Instruction—
James Blanchard, Professor of Engineering Physics

With his interactive teaching style, Engineering Physics Professor James Blanchard uses technology to engage students both on campus and around the world.

Shortly after joining the UW-Madison faculty in 1988, Blanchard began using a new method for teaching computing to engineering students. Rather than emphasize writing and debugging compiled programs, he instead taught advanced mathematical software such as Maple and MATLAB to help students understand how they can best use it to solve realistic engineering problems. He developed the course Engineering Problem Solving I (NEEP 271) to help students learn to use this software. In addition, he transformed the course from a primarily lecture-based course to an interactive learning experience in which he speaks briefly and then allows students to solve problems cooperatively. Ultimately, this course (and a related course in civil and environmental engineering) prompted faculty in the Department of Computer Science to develop a similar course for other engineering departments.

Later, Blanchard developed a more advanced version of NEEP 271 that could be delivered effectively over the Internet to students enrolled in the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) program.

Since its inception in 1995, Blanchard has been involved extensively in MEPP, a nationally recognized distance-learning program. He was a member of the program planning committee, helped to design the curriculum, serves on the MEPP admissions committee, and teaches in the program. More than 200 students have taken his course, Engineering Problem Solving with Computers (EPD 470). “Jake’s balanced teaching approach reinforced the fundamentals while allowing each student the ability to technically drill deeper in areas that directly impacted our professional work discipline,” says a MEPP alumnus. “I was able to utilize Jake’s knowledge and expertise to focus my precious study time on a class project which filled an immediate need at work.”

To develop EPD 470 for engaging online delivery, Blanchard and other MEPP faculty and staff used such technologies as “Moodle” for course management, “LiveMeeting” for web conferences, “Camtasia” for taped mini-lectures, and “Docushare” for file management. He also has created short videos to help market the MEPP program; he has uploaded some of them to the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

Not only has Blanchard used technology to enhance his students’ learning experience, but, as a past director of the college Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) unit, he also helped to ensure that College of Engineering students have access to up-to-date technology and software in CAE labs. As director, his contributions included improving CAE facilities; increasing the number of information-technology staff, particularly in server-based technologies; and expanding student access to engineering software. Says a colleague: “Through his leadership and the innovative efforts he has initiated in technology-enhanced instruction, Jake has already had a positive instructional influence on thousands of students on our campus—and that influence will extend to many thousands more in coming years.”

Diane Lange

Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award—
Diane Lange, University Services Program Associate B

As a program associate in the department of Engineering Professional Development, Diane Lange’s job is to meet people’s needs.

Since joining EPD in 1977, Lange has supported almost 2000 continuing education courses and worked with more than 20 program directors. When a program director schedules a course, the arrangements fall to Lange. She works closely with the speakers, interacting with them daily to set up transport and lodging, put together course materials such as brochures and handouts, and make sure the classroom is outfitted with any resources and technology the speaker needs.

Working under the high pressure of planning numerous conferences, Lange has built a reputation for helpfulness and professionalism. She demonstrates patience and efficiency when handling varied needs and unexpected glitches. Her resourcefulness and unflappable demeanor ensures a positive experience for program directors, conference organizers and participants. Says a colleague, “She exhibits considerable flexibility, coordination skill, and persuasiveness in tasks such as soliciting information, arranging schedules, and obtaining course materials from these on-the-go, heavily committed individuals—a testament to her personal skills.”

Her consistent efficiency is even more impressive given the changes in technology over the past 31 years. What began as a job of working with typewriters and parcel post has become a juggling act of digital media, email and fax. According to Lange, “The change is what keeps it interesting.”

Although she enjoys the challenge, a large part of Lange’s motivation comes from pride in representing UW-Madison and the College of Engineering. As a liaison between staff and faculty in the College of Engineering and outside speakers and course participants, she feels a strong sense of responsibility. “If I do a good job, it’s a good reflection on the department,” she says.

And the image she reflects is stellar. “Diane epitomizes the professionalism, organization, and effectiveness required in a position which extensively interacts with the outside community,” says one speaker. “Diane has been an essential contributor to the success of the conferences sponsored by the College of Engineering.”

Greg Nellis

James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Teaching—
Greg Nellis, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Since joining the College of Engineering in 2001, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Greg Nellis has built a reputation as a respected researcher in the field cryogenics. However, his true passion is for teaching.

He is a leader in incorporating modern software-based analysis tools into the undergraduate curriculum. He has co-organized several workshops on using Engineering Equation Solver (EES), and his use of EES, MATLAB and Maple software in both his undergraduate and graduate courses allows students to explore complex, real-world problems within thermodynamics and heat transfer. In the absence of a heat transfer textbook that employs software tools, he is writing his own, co-authored with Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sanford Klein, scheduled for publication in 2009.

Not satisfied with available instructional materials, Nellis overhauled the courses he teaches by writing his own comprehensive notes and homework problem sets, with an emphasis on applied problems and practical solutions. His main goal is to galvanize his students to learn. In his lecturing, he uses familiar examples, such as contact lenses or icy windshields, to illustrate the complex principles in a way that is understandable and interesting. Says one colleague, “He is the epitome of well-organized and efficient when it comes to course management. When I look for a model of how to design, organize and execute a course, I always think first of Professor Nellis.”

Laboratory work also received a make-over as Nellis designed his own experiments. The first time he taught ME 368, Engineering Measurements Laboratory, a required lab course, he re-wrote the entire manual and replaced the traditional prescriptive projects with open-ended experiments he developed himself—all in the span of one winter break.

With his self-designed homework, efficient lectures, technology use and his commitment to quickly replying to student queries at any time of day (or night), Nellis has turned some of the most dreaded courses in the mechanical engineering curriculum into the highest-evaluated the department has ever offered. In their evaluations, his students consistently assert, “The best class I have ever taken,” “The best teacher I have ever had,” “My favorite class,” and “Give this man a raise!”

“I completed Professor Nellis’ course with the skills and confidence that I could approach real heat transfer problems, apply a range of techniques, and be confident about the level of precision of my solution,” says a former student. “There is little greater an educator can give to those who plan to make a career in solving and understanding technical problems.”

Nellis has previously received a 2006 Pi Tau Sigma distinguished professor award and a 2007 Polygon award for teaching.

Giri Venkataramanan

The Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching—
Giri Venkataramanan, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Giri Venkataramanan believes that learning involves doing.

A hallmark of Venkataramanan’s classes is the balance of instructional material with practical application. Within his project-based pedagogy, his students gain hands-on experience building products from battery chargers to wind turbines. On evaluations, students describe his courses as “a pleasure,” “a class that really makes you think like an engineer,” and “the most practical, applicable course I’ve ever taken.”

In addition to practical projects, he is known for his knowledgeable, fluent and engaging lectures—which he typically delivers without having to refer to notes, even in a 75-minute class. A colleague tasked with assessing Venkataramanan’s teaching said, “I was struck by his mastery of both the course content and the instructional materials.” Unimpressed with available textbooks, Venkataramanan prepares notes in the form of technical papers to complement classroom lectures.

Students, on-campus and off, know that they always can find study help and sage advice from the man they call “Professor Giri.” He is remarkably invested in his students, quick to respond to E-mail queries and available for one-on-one help for any student who seeks him out. He also makes a special effort to interact with distance-learning students, videotaping all his lectures for off-campus pupils.

However, Venkataramanan is not content to limit his teaching innovations to his own classroom. He is a member of the electrical and computer engineering curriculum committee, was a member of the UW-Madison provost’s committee on evaluating and developing campus-wide guidelines for resources for teaching and learning excellence, and has given more than 40 presentations and workshops about interdisciplinary teaching.

While on sabbatical during the 2005-2006 school year, Venkataramanan participated in and several wind-turbine-building projects in rural areas of four countries. His experiences inspired him to develop curriculum that would allow students to explore community-based sustainable energy solutions. In spring 2007, he taught a section of Introduction to Engineering (InterEgr 160) that focused on small-scale wind turbines. Students in the course not only learned about the engineering principles behind wind energy but also built wind turbines as a class project. Such coursework is the beginning of a movement toward a Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability, an initiative that Venkataramanan is spearheading.

“I think that these projects can be seen as a new application of the Wisconsin Idea to integrate research, teaching and outreach in energy conversion in a way that can attract and energize students to use engineering to change lives,” says a colleague. “I think that Giri is opening up a new context for engineering education that realizes and renews the traditions of our university.”

Rolf Reitz

The Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication—
Rolf Reitz, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering

With pioneering contributions that span both experimental and computational studies, Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering Rolf Reitz has become a world leader in modeling liquid sprays. As a result of his contributions, researchers in academia and industry have made significant advances in internal combustion engine design and performance.

In research of fuel-injected engines, the complexity of fuel-spray behavior and the sheer number of variables—fuel-injection speed, drop size, air flow, drop velocity, and others—restricts researchers’ ability to fully understand the physics of the process. Yet, this very understanding plays an important role in increasing engine efficiency and decreasing emissions. At UW-Madison, Reitz and colleagues focus heavily on diesel engines through the Engine Research Center.

Informed by his experimental research, Reitz has developed computer models that have enabled researchers worldwide to more reliably predict spray behavior. His 1982 paper, “Mechanism of atomization of liquid jets” (authored with Princeton University Mechanical Engineering Professor Frediano Bracco), established a mathematical framework for capturing the physics of liquid spray atomization. It remains the standard reference used to describe diesel spray atomization.

Five years later, Reitz and Ramachandra Diwakar of General Motors Research Laboratories authored the paper, “Structure of high-pressure fuel sprays,” which introduced the element of drop breakup and significantly improved the reliability and accuracy of spray modeling. However, near-nozzle conditions affect diesel spray modeling and Reitz’s 1998 paper, “Modeling the effects of fuel spray characteristics on diesel engine combustion and emissions,” with then-graduate student Mark Patterson, provides extensive refinements to his earlier computational fluid dynamics model. For diesel engine modeling using computational fluid dynamics, this latest model was key to useful and accurate results.

Aided by his models, Reitz has pioneered the use of computational fluid dynamics to understand basic physical processes and practical methods for reducing emissions and improving fuel economy. “Professor Reitz’s spray modeling approach has quickly gained a worldwide acceptance as a robust modeling approach for atomization and sprays,” says a research colleague. “A testimony of the quality of his work is demonstrated by the fact that all commercial computational fluid dynamics software, as well as all open-source computational fluid dynamics software used for modeling two-phase, chemically reactive flows have incorporated Professor Reitz’s spray modeling approach.”

Reitz earned his PhD in 1978 from Princeton University. Before joining the mechanical engineering faculty at UW-Madison in 1989, he spent six years at the General Motors Research Laboratories, three years as a Princeton University researcher, and two years as a researcher at the New York University Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.