The 2013 Benjamin Smith Reynolds
Award for Excellence in Teaching
Since Chemical and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor Brian Pfleger taught his first undergraduate course in 2007, students have described him with such terms as “phenomenal” and “favorite CBE professor.” Yet, those positive assessments barely scratch the surface of Pfleger's dedication to inspiring the next generation of engineering students.
In each class he teaches, Pfleger focuses heavily on collaborative problem-solving opportunities and has integrated a suite of technologies that help his students record, review and retain the information, track their progress, and participate in discussion groups. For example, in CBE 560: Biochemical Engineering, a senior elective for students interested in biotechnology, Pfleger encourages class members to form interdisciplinary teams, which ultimately deliver an oral evaluation of a bioprocess for producing a desired chemical. And in CBE 250: Process Synthesis and CBE 310: Chemical Process Thermodynamics—two of the first chemical and biological engineering undergraduate courses—he dedicates significant time during class for students to solve practice problems in teams. “Professor Pfleger has had a profound influence on major choices in my life and has always encouraged me to strive to excel,” says alum Max Kruziki. “His teaching style is one that should be emulated throughout all engineering classrooms.”
Pfleger also revived CBE 561: Biochemical Engineering, a laboratory course not offered since 1999. Through donations and grants, he modernized the physical laboratory space so that undergraduates can receive hands-on experience in microbiology, biochemistry and biochemical engineering through experiments in which they culture microbes, clone DNA, express proteins and operate bioreactors. Through his NSF CAREER award, he plans to develop inquiry-based lab modules and short web-based lecture materials for students taking Biochemical Engineering.
Outside of class, Pfleger mentors students through independent study, undergraduate research opportunities, and as the faculty advisor for more than 40 UW-Madison students who have participated in the iGEM (international genetically engineered machines) synthetic biology research competition.
Since 2007, Pfleger has mentored 39 undergraduate researchers in his laboratory, where they apprentice with an advanced researcher for a semester, then undertake a project of their own and learn valuable communication skills by providing Pfleger an oral summary that conveys their major accomplishment for the semester. For the iGEM team, which has earned gold-medal ratings in competition for three years running, Pfleger provides ongoing mentoring, teaching students about synthetic biology, helping them brainstorm and evaluate their research projects, and providing laboratory space, training and funding for travel. “Professor Pfleger empowered everyone on the iGEM team to develop skills as professional undergraduate research scientists, which has helped propel myself and several of my teammates into graduate school,” says alum John De Friel.