2020 Annual Faculty Awards Honored Scholars for Teaching, Advising, Research Excellence
Among the annual traditions at WPI is one that honors faculty with awards for excellence and achievement.
Board of Trustees’ Awards recognize members of the WPI community for their excellence in research, teaching, advising, and service to the community. The Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award honors innovation in undergraduate education.
Given the impact of the pandemic on campus events, the WPI community did not have its usual opportunity to honor last year’s award winners at the university’s annual Honors Convocation. Instead, winners were celebrated at a December 2020 faculty meeting via Zoom. Here they are:
Jagan Srinivasan, associate professor of biology & biotechnology, received the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. An established researcher with a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Srinivasan uses the tiny worm C. elegans to study the sense of smell and its relation to neurodegenerative diseases. His lab uses cutting-edge tools to decipher how the nervous system detects, interprets, and transmits olfactory information that impacts behavior. His work spans disciplines such as neuroscience, molecular genetics, ecology, and chemical biology. Srinivasan has authored more than 16 articles, which have been published in journals such as Current Biology, Nature Communications, the Journal of Neurogenetics and the Journal of Developmental Biology. He earned a PhD in animal genetics from the University of Tuebingen and Max Planck Institute in Germany and did his postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology.
Sarah Wodin-Schwartz, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering, received the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching. Wodin-Schwartz designs her courses and assignments to help students understand the environmental, social, ethical, and physical impacts of engineering projects on individuals and communities. She also created “Hands-on Wednesdays” for her Introduction to Statics class, including remote instruction, by replacing one day of lecture each week with sessions in which students physically interact with structures to better understand concepts. She is a prior recipient of the Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award. Wodin-Schwartz earned a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where she received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award.
Gillian Smith, associate professor of computer science, received the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Academic Advising. Smith is an award-winning video game designer. In her award citation, students credited her “passion for inclusion and conscious design” and for challenging them to “examine ourselves to uncover our strengths and identify areas in which we need to grow.” Smith was also noted for guiding female students in the computer science department. She is an expert in computational creativity, game design, computer science education, and the intersection of traditional crafts and computation. Smith earned her PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Tiffiny Butler, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and teaching professor of biomedical engineering, received the Denise Nicoletti Trustees’ Award for Service to the Community. Butler is principal investigator of the Great Minds CoMPASS Scholars Program, which serves students from the Worcester Public Schools who are the first generation of their families to attend college, and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar Program at WPI, which serves students who have been historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She contributes to the Women’s Research and Mentoring Program for pre-college students, and previously served on a faculty learning community for social justice and the faculty governance task force on non-tenure track faculty. In Worcester, she serves on the board of Girls Inc. of Worcester and the board of advocates of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts, and she mentors a “little sister.” She is a member of and serves on the Church Council for the Journey Community Church. Butler earned her PhD from Temple University.
The Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize was awarded to Kristin Boudreau, professor of humanities and arts, and John Sullivan, professor of mechanical engineering. The prize recognizes faculty who excel in teaching, scholarship, and working across disciplinary boundaries. Both are widely published authors and leaders in their departments.
Boudreau is the author of three books and numerous articles on American literature, as well as articles on engineering education. She served as head of the Department of Humanities and Arts for a decade and led the development of a course and research about humanitarian engineering. She has been active in faculty governance, most recently serving as chair of the committee on governance and was central to the passage of a tenure path for WPI’s teaching faculty, the first of its kind in the United States. In 2018, she received the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. Boudreau earned her PhD at the University of Rochester.
Sullivan has authored more than 150 publications, holds six U.S. patents or research disclosures, and has secured $6.6 million for research. He received the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Faculty Advising in 2017 and has served as interim and associate head of the mechanical engineering department and as Secretary of the Faculty. He earned his PhD at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College.
Two faculty members received the Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award: Carlo Pinciroli, assistant professor of robotics engineering and assistant professor of fire protection engineering, and Elisabeth Stoddard, associate teaching professor of environmental and sustainability studies.
Both were cited for developing approaches and tools to improve student performance in challenging classes or circumstances.
Pinciroli uses elements of video game design and principle in his robotics engineering and computer science courses to generate greater student participation and comprehension of the subject. His research focuses on “swarm robotics,” which studies decentralized coordination of large teams of robots, and he has created a widely used simulator and a programming language for robot swarms. Pinciroli earned his PhD from the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
Stoddard developed tools to help address the issue of bias and stereotyping on teams to enable students to better work together while undertaking group projects, which are the distinguishing element of a WPI education. A human-environment geographer, Stoddard directs WPI’s Farm Stay Project Center and focuses her research on the intersection of nature, society, food, and social justice. She earned her PhD at Clark University.
The 2021 Trustees’ Awards will be announced in the coming months. Plans for a celebration have not yet been determined.