Robert L. Norton, Milton Prince Higgins II Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at WPI, has been named the Professor of the Year for Massachusetts by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Recognized as one of the most prestigious awards for college professors, the CASE U.S. Professors of the Year program annually salutes the nation’s most outstanding undergraduate instructors.
WORCESTER, Mass. – Robert L. Norton, Milton Prince Higgins II Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been named the Professor of the Year for Massachusetts by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Recognized as one of the most prestigious awards for college professors, the CASE U.S. Professors of the Year program annually salutes the nation’s most outstanding undergraduate instructors—those who excel as teachers and mentors. The program is sponsored jointly by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Norton and the other national and state winners were recognized today at an awards luncheon at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. He is the second WPI professor to receive this honor. Judith Miller, then professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, was the Massachusetts Professor of the Year in 2002.
“The faculty at WPI are passionately committed to undergraduate education, to helping young people develop a sound understanding of engineering, mathematics, and science and the ability to apply that knowledge in important ways,” said WPI President Dennis Berkey. “Whether as a teacher, advisor, mentor, or friend, Bob Norton has exemplified this commitment for more than 25 years, so we are delighted that he is being recognized with this splendid national honor.”
Norton earned undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and industrial technology at Northeastern University and an MS in engineering design at Tufts University. He joined the WPI faculty in 1981 after more than 20 years in industry and academia. During that time he held posts at Polaroid Corporation, where he designed cameras and high-speed automated machinery, Jet Spray Cooler Inc., where he designed food-handling machinery and products, and Tufts New England Medical Center and Boston City Hospital, where he helped develop an artificial heart as well as noninvasive assisted-circulation devices.
As head of the Design Group in the Mechanical Engineering Department at WPI, Norton teaches undergraduate and graduate courses that focus on design, kinematics, vibrations, and dynamics of machinery, advises undergraduate design projects as head of the Gillette Project Center, supervises graduate research, and is active as a consultant to industry on a wide range of engineering projects, which have included disposable medical products and high-speed production machinery.
Norton’s scholarship has resulted in 13 patents, numerous journal articles and technical papers on kinematics, dynamics of machinery, cam design and manufacturing, computers in education, and engineering education, and eight engineering design software packages. He is the author of three textbooks: Design of Machinery: An Introduction to the Synthesis and Analysis of Mechanisms and Machines (fourth edition, 2008); Machine Design: An Integrated Approach (third edition, 2005); and Cam Design and Manufacturing Handbook (2002). His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Turkish, and Spanish. In addition, he is a reviewer for ASME Journal of Mechanical Design, ASME Applied Mechanics Reviews, and the IFTOMM Journal, Mechanism and Machine Theory.
His career accomplishments have earned Norton numerous awards, including, in 2004, the Archie Higdon Distinguished Educator Award from the ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) Mechanics Division, for distinguished and outstanding contributions to engineering mechanics education, and, in 2002, the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Machine Design Award, which recognized his eminent achievement and distinguished service in the machine design field as a teacher, author, and designer. He was elected a fellow of ASME in 1997.
At WPI, he has held both the Russell M. Searle Instructorship and Morgan Distinguished Instructorship in mechanical engineering. In 2005, he received the WPI Board of Trustees Award for Outstanding Teaching. His citation read, in part: “Students, alumni, and colleagues alike regard Professor Norton as a highly gifted and caring teacher who brings his industrial experience, deep technical knowledge, and love of engineering design to the classroom and projects. Perhaps the best way to characterize Professor Norton's teaching is ‘rigor with vigor.’”
Norton is a member of ASME, ASEE, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Society of Sigma XI, and Pi Tau Sigma. He is a longtime member of the ASEE Computers in Education Division, having served as the division’s program chairman, secretary-treasurer, and president.