Two outstanding graduate students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering have been selected as recipients of 2020 Campus-Wide Teaching Assistant Awards for excellence in teaching and instructional continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Electrical engineering PhD student Joshua Tabor was recognized with an Innovation in Teaching Award. Tabor focuses on mobile sensing and robots. Currently, he is developing a small-scale testbed for autonomous vehicles using RC cars that have smaller, cheaper versions of all the sensors full-sized autonomous vehicles use. Tabor says the scale of this testbed allows researchers to study autonomous driving in a lab setting instead of outfitting their own fleets of full-sized vehicles, and they hope to use the system to teach engineering and computer science students about autonomous vehicles.
As an instructor, he has taught three semesters of the computer science course on Foundations of Mobile Systems, and five semesters of the engineering course Introduction to Robotics.
“As an engineer, I like to pose teaching as an engineering problem: what can I do to maximize the amount of robotics material students learn in a semester?” Tabor says. “As I answer student questions, part of me always wonders if their problems are just something they missed, or if there is some bigger, systemic problem with the class. Some of the systemic issues have needed innovative solutions, like developing programs to help students automatically debug their robotics hardware. I also enjoy creating demos of interesting robotics tools or methodologies so students can develop an intuitive understanding of the most up-to-date ideas in the field of robotics. The most rewarding part of being a TA every semester is seeing how the students use their new robotics knowledge to create their own robots in their semester projects.”
Franklin Hobbs, a PhD student in materials science and engineering, is the recipient of a Capstone PhD Teaching Award. Hobbs’ research is a crossover between materials science and geoscience. His specialty is in mineralogy and crystal chemistry, with a focus on dynamic non-equilibrium growth processes for magnesium-bearing carbonates. He has taught the Materials Science labs of MSE 260, MSE 360, and MSE 361. Additionally, he helped redesign and taught the Materials Science class for non-materials engineers (MSE 350).
“Instructors should strive to teach students where they are,” Hobbs says. “Every student has a different starting point and background. As instructors, we are responsible for making content accessible to everyone.”
A complete list of Teaching Assistant Award Winners is available here.