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Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Research, Advising, and Community Service Presented at Honors Convocation - 2015

Honorees Receive Board of Trustees' Awards, Moruzzi Young Faculty Award, and Teaching Assistant of the Year Award

April 24, 2015

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today recognized six members of its academic community during the university's annual Honors Convocation. The awards, including four distinguished honors bestowed annually by the WPI Board of Trustees, recognized five faculty members and a graduate student for outstanding teaching, outstanding research and creative scholarship, outstanding academic advising, and service to the community.

Gary Pollice, professor of computer science, 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. Pollice brings his extensive industrial experience as a software engineer to his teaching, giving students practical experience and a taste of the real-world (in his popular software engineering course, he interacts with the students as a CEO or marketing vice president and issues grades in the form of paychecks). Many alumni, deans, and faculty members have enthusiastically acknowledged Pollice's positive impact on students as an educator, project advisor, and mentor, and undergraduate and graduate students credit him for preparing them well for their careers and lives.

Umberto Mosco, Harold J. Gay Professor of Mathematical Sciences, 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. Mosco has pursued groundbreaking research in several areas of mathematical analysis and its applications to partial differential equations. His early work on structural stability of variational inequalities and variational problems led to a new concept of convergence for which he is now recognized internationally. In fact, the "Mosco Convergence" is familiar to virtually all researchers and students working in the areas of analysis, calculus of variations, and partial differential equations. His more recent work on Dirichlet forms has had a profound impact on homogenization and its many applications in science and engineering.

Sonia Chernova, assistant professor of computer science and robotics engineering, 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. An accomplished educator and researcher, Chernova is also an outstanding advisor who goes above and beyond what is expected of her to assure the success of her students, her award citation noted. Students say she helps them tackle academic and life challenges, encourages them to become active in their fields through collaboration and participation, and teaches them to think about the big picture as they pursue their research. As one student put it, "she knows how to bring out the best in her students."

Suzanne Weekes, associate professor of mathematical sciences, 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. Her award citation noted that Weekes has brought her straightforward, honest approach to the numerous service activities she has performed for her department and WPI (among other campus activities, she is the founder of and advisor to the student chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics), to organizations in Worcester and Central Massachusetts (where she has been a proponent of efforts to support children and families), and, nationally, through initiatives in mathematics education (for example, she is a member of the Education Committee of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics).

Jim Cocola, assistant professor of literature in the Department of Humanities and Arts, 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. Cocola was honored for "his innovative and multidisciplinary approaches to student engagement and success in the humanities and arts." In particular, he was recognized for his use of the tools of digital humanities in courses and projects. For example, he has integrated digital archives, hyperlinks, interactive assignments, and online forums in Inquiry Seminars and courses. Student project teams he has advised have developed digital mapping techniques to analyze elections in Massachusetts in the late 19th century for the American Antiquarian Society and an iPad app for the "Knights!" exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum.

Siamak Ghorbani Faal, a PhD candidate in robotics 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. Faal, who supports more than 800 graduate and undergraduate students, was recognized for his patience and dedication to teaching and his drive to see others succeed. Students say he builds from fundamental knowledge toward practical applications, helping them understand the “why” before the “how.” In addition to his work as a TA, he provides training in various software programs and has provided personalized assistance for students taking online courses. "Siamak genuinely cares about students and has demonstrated a dedication that is exceptional," his citation noted.