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  5. College honors 25 faculty and staff at spring celebration

College honors 25 faculty and staff at spring celebration

In a May 3 event, the College of Engineering recognized an outstanding group of faculty and staff whose service and contributions improve the college and directly affect the world. These honorees work, teach and conduct research at UW-Madison because they love what they do. Their efforts—and the efforts of all college faculty and staff—contribute directly to the college excellence in teaching, research and service.


Polygon Engineering Council teaching awards



UW-Madison award recipients


  • Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award—Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Giri Venkataramanan
  • Hilldale Award—Erwin W. Mueller Professor Materials Science and Engineering and Bascom Professor of Surface Science Max Lagally
  • Kellet Mid-Career Award, supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation—Philip Dunham Reed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Susan Hagness
  • Romnes Faculty Fellowship, supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation—Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Hongrui Jiang
  • 2011 campus nominee for the UW-System Alliant Energy Underkofler Awards for Excellence in Teaching—Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering John Booske


New UW-Madison Teaching Academy members




College of Engineering award recipients

Ragnar E. Onstad Service to Society Award
Engineering Professional Development Faculty Associate Donald Schramm

Don Schramm has a superpower that he can share with the world. It is the ability to mitigate disaster.

In 1982, Schramm cofounded the UW-Madison Disaster Management Center (UWDMC), which provides practical disaster management training to local and national governments and international organizations. As director of the UWDMC and faculty associate in the Department of Engineering Professional Development, he has secured more than $8.9 million as the principal investigator for grants to develop the UWDMC’s self-study distance education and onsite custom workshop programs. Schramm has developed and implemented training programs focused on disaster management in 135 countries, serving more than 50,000 participants and mitigating potential disaster due to natural and human made hazards for millions of people. His work has been an integral part of disaster management processes for agencies including the United Nations, the ProVention Consortium, the World Food Program, the Pan American Health Organization, and many more.

Schramm has enabled engineers, planners, medical professionals and governmental leaders across the globe to save lives through better pre-event planning and post-event response to natural hazards. In particular, colleagues say Schramm has had global impact upon reducing the human and societal tragedy caused by earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural hazards. Additionally, he has made an equally important contribution in helping engineers work effectively across cultures, countries, and continents, a critical outcome in the increasingly global nature of engineering teams and projects.

When the UWDMC was founded nearly 30 years ago, the field of disaster management was far different than it is today. Limited information about the theory and practice of disaster management had been written; training and support texts were nearly non-existent. In practice, more than 95 percent of disaster and emergency management practitioners in developing countries had no access to training, including staff of international organizations. In response, Schramm and the UWDMC established a curriculum of self-study courses on a wide range of disaster and refugee management topics, with input from colleagues worldwide.

While distance education has a long tradition at UW, its application to disaster management in developing countries was an important innovation. The self-study courses became accessible to practitioners across the globe at very low cost.

Schramm estimates he has traveled to 100 countries in the course of his work for the UWDMC. He says there are plenty more countries he would love to visit and work in.
Ultimately, he hopes the UWDMC will help establish centers like it around the world. Already, more than 10 such centers have begun with some input from Wisconsin.

Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication
Phil and Jean Myers Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Foster

In the early 1980s, Phil and Jean Myers Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Foster applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore a type of combustion that a group of two-stroke engine researchers in Japan had stumbled across.

Foster wanted to study the fundamental science behind this odd combustion, which he thought perhaps could be used to reduce emissions in the typical four-stroke engines used in vehicles. However, the grant reviewers turned down Foster’s proposal—what he was advocating seemed impossible.

Foster received the rejection letter the day after he and then-graduate student Paul Najt demonstrated in his lab that, in fact, this type of combustion, called homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI), was feasible in four-stroke engines.

The paper Foster and Najt subsequently published in 1983, Compression-Ignited Homogeneous Charge Combustion, SAE Paper 830264, has gone on to ignite a slow revolution in engine research. Almost 30 years the later, the paper remains the most widely cited in HCCI research and development.

“Professor Foster, through his keen insight into combustion chemistry, saw the potential for this anomalous model of combustion,” says a colleague.

Unlike spark-ignition engines, where combustion is ignited by a spark plug and proceeds as a propagating front, an HCCI engine is ignited by compressing a homogeneous mixture until it reaches a high temperature. The mixture then auto-ignites. Well-mixed, dilute fuel in an HCCI engine forms substantially less soot, carbon dioxide and nitrogen than traditional spark-ignition engines.

Foster and Najt’s paper explained, for the first time, the fundamentals behind HCCI that had been observed in two-stroke studies. They modeled the spontaneous-ignition process and performed carefully controlled four-stroke cycle engine experiments to identify the key engine design and operating variables involved in the process. They also determined the fuel composition requirements necessary to achieve HCCI combustion and indicated how these findings could be used to improve efficiency and emissions in standard engines.

HCCI research has taken off in the last decade as automotive makers seriously consider how to reduce emissions while at the same time increase fuel efficiency. Most have already built and tested prototype HCCI engines and vehicles, including General Motors.

Gary J. Smyth, director of the GM Powertrain Systems Research Lab, specifically credits the 1983 paper as “the cornerstone upon which 25 years worth of HCCI research is based.” This includes General Motors’ successful development of the first publically demonstrated, fully functional HCCI vehicle, he says.

“Professor Foster’s publication is widely recognized by both academic and industrial researchers as the seminal contribution that launched the HCCI combustion process in to the forefront engine research,” say two of Foster’s colleagues from the UW-Madison Engine Research Center.

“Beyond being recognized as a stalwart publication, this work is now bearing real fruit in products that are entering the marketplace.”

Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award
Electrical and Computer Engineering Payroll and Benefits Specialist 4 Renee Starks

Having served the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for the past 18 years, Renee Starks has become the most senior and experienced payroll and benefits specialist in the College of Engineering. Her expertise, coupled with her passion for the job, makes Starks a sought-after resource for a variety of college- and campus-wide human resources initiatives.

“One of Renee’s defining characteristics is that she views herself—with our full support—as a citizen of the entire college, not just our department,” says ECE Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke Professor and Chair John Booske.
As a college “citizen,” Starks has become the go-to person for training new payroll and benefits specialists, as well as a trusted voice on committees dealing with human resource policies procedures, such as the new UW-Madison Human Resources System and its various software modules. Starks is consistently among the first to volunteer to test and pilot new software tools to keep ECE and the entire College of Engineering a step ahead of process changes.

January 2010 was particularly busy and complex payroll period for the College of Engineering dean’s office. Starks volunteered to help, taking on the extra work in addition to her substantial ECE duties. Her efforts helped insure hundreds of people in the college were paid on time.

“She accepts these extra assignments simply because she recognizes that they need to be done, and she is committed to excellence within the entire college,” Booske says.

Starks also is extremely knowledgeable about visa processing. Her colleagues note how seriously she approaches this duty, because missing one step could mean a student or faculty member is unable to enter the country or may have to leave. “She is always looking to improve her procedures so that the margin for error is minimal,” says ECE department manager Lori Burrow.

“It is not in her job description to pass this knowledge on to her peers in the college, but whenever anyone calls her, which is regularly, she assists them through this meticulous process,” Burrow adds.

Starks’ colleagues note her excellent interpersonal skills and positive, “can-do” attitude. “She fearlessly and cheerfully tackles complex situations where the rules or policies are ambiguous or not yet well established and thus require an open, adaptive and creative mind,” Booske says. “She starts with determining the interests of the faculty or staff member or student and finds the best procedure to accomplish that objective.”

Her willingness to help others goes beyond navigating payroll processes. Colleagues and students often seek Starks out as a source of moral support and source of advice about living in Madison, Wisconsin.

“Simply put, without her, ECE would not function as smoothly as it does,” says Burrow.

James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Irena Knezevic

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.

Knezevic’s 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 to help students, who 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.

While many of her students and colleagues find her abilities in the lecture hall impressive, 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.

“Professor Knezevic excels in making abstract, heavily theoretical concepts accessible to students,” says a colleague. “In short, I wish I would have been able to have her as an instructor when I took my first microelectronics course!”

Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award
Chemical and Biological Engineering Senior Information Processing Consultant Todd Ninman

Senior Information Processing Consultant Todd Ninman’s service to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering began in an era when the first mass-produced computer was manufactured by Tandy.

At the time, Ninman managed a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11/55 mini-computer system under Professor W. Harmon Ray, who used it for research and instructional computing. The system used 256 kilobytes of RAM and stored data and programs on two 2.5 megabyte disks.

That was 1978. In the intervening 33 years, Ninman devoted his professional career to ensuring the department is at the leading edge of computer-assisted engineering. Through Ninman’s contributions, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering was among the first in the world to institute computer-aided data acquisition and control in teaching and research laboratories. It also was a leader in providing valuable high-speed computing capabilities for students and in producing graduates who had the latest knowledge of those new capabilities. “As the person who hired Todd 33 years ago and has worked closely with him over that period, I can say that he has made the greatest impact on our department of any staff member over this period, and will be the hardest to replace when he retires,” says Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Emeritus W. Harmon Ray. “His combination of outstanding technical skills, friendly personality and willingness to help 24/7, if necessary, has endeared him to a third-century of students, staff, faculty and department visitors.”

In particular, Ninman has purchased, installed, networked and supported computing systems that increase faculty, staff and student productivity, and enable data collection and computational research. He has designed several databases, relocated and expanded departmental computing facilities, and helped countless faculty and students navigate the benefits and pitfalls of research computing.

His colleagues call him calm and reassuring, a gifted programmer, a problem-solver, and a rare individual who somehow, against all odds, can make everything work. “When it comes to computing, and all of what that entails, Todd is always one step ahead of us,” says Howard Curler Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Juan de Pablo. “He plans, he anticipates, and he implements his vision for computing within the department with a clarity and fortitude that are simply extraordinary.”

Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching
Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Daniel Klingenberg

When he sees an opportunity to improve engineering education, Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Daniel Klingenberg seizes it.

He has developed or co-developed six new courses, including Introduction to Colloid and Interface Science (CBE 547), a multidisciplinary elective that enrolls students from across UW-Madison; and Introduction to Society’s Engineering Grand Challenges (InterEGR 102), a course that focuses on how people from multiple engineering disciplines will help solve major societal challenges.

Focusing on topics that often confuse undergraduates, Klingenberg and Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Emeritus R. Byron Bird have begun writing a new textbook, Introductory Transport Phenomena. This new text for undergraduates will complement the classic text, Transport Phenomena, by Bird, Stewart and Lightfoot. Additionally, Klingenberg and colleagues in mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering are developing online lectures for an interdisciplinary course in fluid mechanics.

As evidence of his commitment to excellence in the classroom, he has received the Polygon Outstanding Instructor Award four times and spares no effort in helping engineering students understand even the most difficult concepts. “Transport phenomena is regarded as one of the most difficult courses, due to its rigorous math requirement and somewhat abstract ideas,” says a former student. “However, Klingenberg’s students often list it as one of their favorite classes, due to his ability to teach the subject. In research, his contextualized description of the importance of practical rheology of biomass in the production of biofuels led me and several other undergraduate researchers to feel like we were making a difference through engineering.”

Instrumental in developing the honors in research track in the chemical engineering curriculum, Klingenberg is a strong proponent of including undergraduate students in research and regularly involves three to six undergraduates in projects related to suspension rheology, often in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory.

For years, Klingenberg has served as chair of the chemical and biological engineering curriculum committee and of the college Academic Policies, Curricula and Regulations Council. He also is a member of the task force for Engineering Beyond Boundaries, a long-term college initiative to transform engineering education. “Dan is truly passionate about education and effective in turning that passion into action,” says Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Michael Graham. “The education experience of students in the college is greatly enriched by Dan’s efforts.”

Harvey Spangler Award for Technology-Enhanced Instruction
Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Hussain Bahia

When Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Hussain Bahia considered how to use video instruction to redesign and improve a high-demand civil and environmental engineering course, Materials for Constructed Facilities (CEE 395), one of his primary objectives also was to retain student-instructor “face time.”

At the time, this instructor-intensive course, which enrolls approximately 90 students per year, included 50-minute lectures twice each week and a weekly two-hour laboratory section that focuses on construction material behavior and standardized tests used to evaluate construction materials in practice.

With help and support from Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor and college Associate Dean Steven Cramer, Bahia modernized and refined Materials for Constructed Facilities in a way that decreases the resources needed to offer it while enhancing the student learning experience.

The result is a course that combines a series of online video lectures, lab materials and detailed video “lab tutorials,” assignments, and interactive quizzes with in-person lecture and laboratory sessions that enable students to discuss the online material in small groups and with the instructors. Web-based, access-on-demand multimedia modules and content enable the students to view—and review—course materials at their convenience and allows Bahia and other instructors to use in-class time more effectively. “The lectures were then used as discussions, where a series of questions were provided for the students to answer,” says a former student. “Professor Bahia did a great job of involving everyone through his enthusiastic attitude. Based on the answers and questions he received from the students, he was able to determine which topics needed to be discussed more thoroughly. It was clear he had a positive impact on student learning.”

The new approach has increased students’ access to course materials, increased student laboratory achievement, decreased the time students need to complete laboratory work, and enhanced learning via small-group work. “Professor Bahia created an effective model that melds pedagogy and technology without forfeiting the key in-person teaching/learning element,” says Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor and Chair Jeffrey Russell. “Student evaluations underscore his success in implementing this model. As other faculty in the college create coursework with a web-based delivery component, his work can serve as a model for others to consider in their design process.”




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