Worcester Polytechnic Institute recognized six distinguished members of its academic community during the university's annual Honors Convocation today. The awards honored four faculty members, a retired administrator, and a graduate student for outstanding research, teaching, advising, and contributions to the community.
Mark Richman, professor of mechanical engineering, received the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching. Established in 1959, the award recognizes faculty members for excellence in teaching coupled with outstanding professional contributions. According to his award citation, Richman, who has taught fundamentals and advanced concepts to generations of students, combines humor and rigor to show students that learning can and should be fun. A natural and dedicated teacher who is respectful of each student's individual needs, he stresses the connection between understanding undergraduate mathematics and solving engineering problems and reminds students that the challenges they face in their careers "will be matters of safety to people."
Roger Gottlieb, professor of philosophy, received the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. The award recognizes continuing excellence in research and scholarship by faculty members over a period of at least five years. Internationally recognized for his work in political philosophy and religious and social environmental studies, Gottlieb is a prolific, highly influential, and innovative scholar who has expressed his ideas as the author or editor of 16 books (including the recently published Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters; Oxford University Press), more than 100 scholarly articles, numerous academic presentations, and essays in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the Huffington Post. "In short, Professor Gottlieb has strongly exemplified the qualities of scholar, researcher, and teacher for which we honor him with this award and by which he has brought enduring recognition and acclaim to this university," his citation reads.
Destin Heilman, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received the Board of Trustees' Award for Academic Advising, which recognizes the important role that academic advisors play in guiding and mentoring students through stages of professional and personal development. According to his citation, Heilman, in his dedication to his students and the WPI community, exemplifies the qualities of an outstanding advisor. Believing that "one of the most fulfilling things a teacher can experience is a transfer of one’s excitement and passion for a topic to a student," he gives students his undivided attention, sound advice, and the information they need to reach their goals. He works hard to get to know students and takes a personal interest in their academic success and future.
Janet Begin Richardson, who retired last fall as vice president for student affairs and campus life, received the Denise Nicoletti Trustees' Award for Service to Community. Established in 2003 in memory of WPI’s first tenured female faculty member in electrical and computer engineering, it is presented to a member of the faculty or staff in recognition of passion and action in serving the needs of a community. Richardson joined WPI in 1980 as assistant dean of students and served as dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs before becoming WPI's first female vice president in 2004. A collegial leader and consensus builder with a drive for excellence, she was recognized for being an advocate for diversity on campus and a champion for women students. She played pivotal roles in the development of several building projects at WPI, including the Founders Hall (1985) and East Hall (2008) residence facilities, and the Campus Center (2001), which she famously referred to as "WPI's living room." Her visionary leadership has extended beyond the campus to the many the local organizations and boards she has served.
Aarti Madan, assistant professor of Spanish, received the Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award. Presented in memory of a longtime faculty member in WPI's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the award recognizes innovation in undergraduate education. In her three years at WPI, "Aarti Madan has become known for her tireless efforts at curricular revision and for her success in developing students' cultural understanding alongside linguistic competence," her citation notes. She has used innovative methods to help her students learn Spanish, including having them use Skype to converse with native speakers around the world and sending students into the Worcester community to interview Spanish speakers about matters of cultural and social import. She also developed and directs the Buenos Aires Language and Culture Immersion program, in which students stay with local families, take classes, and learn about Argentine culture while pledging to speak only Spanish.
Michael Morin, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, received the Teaching Assistant of the Year Award, which recognizes the contributions graduate students make to the quality and success of WPI’s undergraduate curriculum. According to his citation, students and faculty praise his level of commitment and care for students' learning, which they say goes far beyond his formal responsibilities. One student noted that while some teaching assistant will give students the answer when they ask a question, Morin "takes the time to ask questions that engage the student to really think about the problem, and eventually this leads to the solution."