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Five Remarkable Engineering Academics Selected for Outstanding Faculty Awards in 2017–2018

Five of the best and brightest academics from the College of Engineering (COE) have been chosen to receive COE’s 2017-2018 Outstanding Faculty Awards. Professor Russell Tessier was selected for the Outstanding Senior Faculty Award. The review committee designated Assistant Professors Caitlyn Butler and David Irwin as joint awardees for the Barbara H. and Joseph I. Goldstein Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. Finally, Professors Matthew Lackner and Shelly Peyton were named the co-recipients of the COE Outstanding Teaching Award. All five award winners will be recognized during the COE Senior Recognition Celebration to be held on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Dean Tim Anderson said that Tessier of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department was selected for the Outstanding Senior Faculty Award “based on the excellence of his almost 20 years of research, teaching, and service as a faculty member in the ECE Department…Russ has also been recognized for his exceptional teaching and extensive service to the department, college, and university.”

Tessier’s professional achievements include: publishing 32 journal publications and 51 conference papers with conference accept rates of less than 40 percent; garnering more than 4,000 citations; advising on eight doctoral and 31 M.S. theses; and attracting approximately $5.5 million in funding ($3.1 million as PI). Among his many honors, Tessier was selected as a UMass Chancellor's Leadership Fellow for 2015-16, he was chosen for both the COE Outstanding Junior Faculty Award and Outstanding Teaching Award in 2003-04, and he was a Lilly Fellow in 2002-03. As ECE Professor Wayne Burleson concluded, “I believe Russ has strongly demonstrated the ideals on which the Senior Faculty Award is based: research excellence; innovative teaching; service to the department, college, and university; and professional leadership.”  

Butler of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department qualified for the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award because she “has been recognized for her research on biofilm processes for water and wastewater treatment by receiving a prestigious NSF CAREER grant,” commented Dean Anderson. “She has been further honored for her excellence in teaching by being selected as a Lilly Fellow.”

According to CEE Department Head Richard Palmer, “Dr. Butler has published 19 peer-reviewed papers and is establishing herself as a major contributor in her field. In addition, she has been extremely successful in sponsored research. She has been awarded $757,600 as a PI and $7.677 million as a co-PI. She has received two grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the first of its kind electricity-producing toilet, called the Green Latrine. Caitlyn is also the academic lead on an additional $150,000 Air Force Phase I SBIR with FTL labs and Robin Air Force Base. ”

As the co-recipient of the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, Irwin “is also an NSF CAREER award winner who has garnered extensive research funding that resulted in multiple publications in the emerging research area of sustainable computing while providing extensive student advising and community service,” said Dean Anderson.

Besides receiving the NSF CAREER Award, Irwin has published 36 archival conference proceedings in highly-selective computer systems engineering conferences since he began at the ECE. Beyond that, he has published 17 journal articles since then, and he also has 4,300 citations. As to award funding, he has served as PI on four grants and co-PI on seven, totaling $4.7 million, with a PI/co-PI share of $2.3 million. ECE Department Head Christopher Hollot commented that “Dr. Irwin is a computer systems engineer with research expertise in computer operating systems – in particular, for computing clouds…In his research, Dr. Irwin builds experimental computer systems – designing and deploying prototypes to collect and analyze real-world data.” Hollot added that “Dr. Irwin’s research productivity since joining the ECE Department has been phenomenal.”  

As Dean Anderson said about the co-recipients of the COE Outstanding Teaching Award, Lackner of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and Peyton of the Chemical Engineering Department: “Both Shelly and Matt have demonstrated exceptional excellence in the teaching of a wide variety of courses and in the creation of new courses in the College of Engineering.”

Dean Anderson noted that “Peyton has extended the reach of the university by creating programs for students from underrepresented groups and high school women and has worked to increase diversity in our graduate program.”

One of Peyton’s alumni nominators wrote that “Shelly is without a doubt the most skilled professor at motivating her students to challenge themselves that I have ever met; she leads by example and serves as an outstanding technical subject-matter expert whom aspiring engineers can look up to. Professor Peyton encourages her students to explore engineering by presenting subject matter fundamentals as well as cutting edge research, and [she poses] questions that inspire creativity and further research…Shelly impresses upon her students the values of independent research, subject mastery, teamwork, and the ability to give a technical presentation. Her approach to teaching is multifaceted, providing students with a solid base of technical knowledge upon which to build and innovate, as well as the motivation to do so.”

As MIE Associate Dean James Rinderle wrote about Lackner, “In every dimension Matt is truly an outstanding teacher and mentor to students.” Rinderle also observed that Lackner “doesn’t just ‘cover’ material, he gets students to engage with it.”

In addition, Rinderle wrote that “I believe Matt is a truly exceptional instructor. His classroom instruction receives the highest marks I’ve seen among our faculty. His commitment to students in his class and his commitment to offering students the best curricular, co-curricular, and research opportunities is unmatched in the department. His contributions in creating new courses, in supporting student competitions, in remodeling courses to engage students, and in mentoring undergraduate research distinguish him. Matt is an exemplar in delivering on our promise to best prepare the next generation of engineers.” (April 2018)