The formula for making an impact on undergraduate students is a mix of meaningful instruction, curricular innovation and compassionate advising. It’s a blend that Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Thatcher Root exemplifies. He has become, according to one colleague, “the backbone of our undergraduate program.” “It is probably safe to say that every CBE undergraduate has taken a class from Professor Root at least once,” says another colleague. He has taught more than 2,600 students in 15 courses.
In the last four years, Root has developed CBE 562/511: Energy Technologies and Sustainability as part of the Engineering Beyond Boundaries (formerly COE 2010) programs. CBE 511 focuses on alternative and emerging energy technology and will be a strong contribution to the new Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability. Non-engineering students also can take the class, creating an enriching, interdisciplinary learning environment.
Root was the first chemical engineering professor to participate in InterEngr 160: Introduction to Engineering, and he continues to present timely and engaging projects for the freshman level class. Root has also led a project to revise CBE 324: Transport Laboratory to include new lab experiments, modernize the existing equipment, record background lectures, and integrate statistics and data acquisition into the class.
Additionally, Root is the director of Summer Lab, a five-credit, five-week immersion course that is “much feared by undergraduates and much loved by alumni” as one faculty member describes it. Summer Lab holds sessions in Madison, as well as Vienna, Austria and Oviedo, Spain, and Root coordinates both the local and international classes. “This is a big effort that is rarely, if ever, overtly recognized as such by his faculty colleagues. Yet year after year Thatcher approaches the job with enthusiasm. He knows that the summer lab experience is central—it uniquely brands the Wisconsin chemical engineer,” says a colleague.
Beyond the classroom, Root is a favorite advisor for undergraduates. He regularly meets with students, even those not formally assigned to him. “When you meet with Professor Root, it is very apparent that you are talking to someone who really cares about your future and what you learn,” says one former student.”
Root has received student recognition via the Polygon Instructor Award five times. He has received a University Housing Distinguished Professor award and also is a UW Teaching Academy Fellow.
“Professor Root works for and cares about his students in such a way that his students want to work hard in return,” says another former student.
PAST AWARD RECIPIENTS
- The Ragnar E. Onstad Service to Society Award
- College of Engineering Classified Staff Distinguished Achievement Award
- Bollinger Academic Staff Distinguished Achievement Award
- Byron Bird Award for Excellence in a Research Publication
- Benjamin Smith Reynolds Award for Excellence in Teaching
- James G. Woodburn Award for Excellence in Teaching
- Harvey Spangler Award for Technology-Enhanced Instruction
- John and Jean Berndt Technology Enhanced Learning Initiative