Karen M. McNamara Receives WPI's Moruzzi Young Faculty Award

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

TOP HONORS: Karen M. McNamara, right, assistant professor of chemical engineering, receives the Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education at Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Faculty Honors Convocation. She is congratulated by, from left, President Edward Alton Parrish, Provost John F. Carney and Judith E. Miller, professor of biology and biotechnology.

WORCESTER, Mass. - Karen M. McNamara of Marlboro, Mass., received the 2000 Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education at Worcester Polytechnic Institute's April 25 Faculty Honors Convocation. She is an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

"Professor McNamara has taken an approach to education that truly defines the word 'innovative,'" reads the citation accompanying the award. In one of her courses, which explores the material science of art and historical objects, she not only organized field trips to museums and laboratory work but also went a step further.

At an antique store, the professor purchased an item for each student in her class, purposely choosing artifacts that would be unfamiliar. At the first class of the term, students received an artifact and learned that by the last day of the term, they would produce a report on the object. They were to discover what the object was called, what it was used for, what it was composed of and when it was produced.

One student, given an old makeup compact, showed that the item dated to the 1920s, based on the chemical composition of the makeup residue. Another proved that his antique cameo was distributed by MGM studios during the promotion of the film "Gone With the Wind."

"McNamara stimulated the curiosity of her students, who then willingly supplied the effort needed to complete their projects," her award citation notes. "This ability is the heart of teaching."

She has also initiated cooperative projects with the Worcester Art Museum, involving WPI students in authentication and restoration of historically significant objects.

McNamara earned a 1992 Ph.D. and a 1989 M.S. degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 1987 B.S. in chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Prior to coming to WPI three years ago, she worked in industry for several years at General Electric Co.'s corporate research and development facility in Schenectady, N.Y., where she was responsible for the design and development of microwave CVD processes for diamond film deposition.

In addition to her other research interests, she also is involved in the characterization and production of ultra high purity diamond films in conjunction with the Genesis Discovery Mission for Return of Solar Matter to Earth, sponsored through the Johnson Space Center. She has expanded her research to include the use and development of materials in space, including inorganic coatings for optical components in conjunction with the WPI program at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The Moruzzi award was established in 1999 to commemorate the innovative and outstanding teaching of the late Romeo L. Moruzzi, who taught in WPI's Electrical Engineering Department. The award recognizes innovation in undergraduate education by a young faculty member.

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.