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Gift from alumnus helps L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science to establish college's first Faculty Excellence Award

May 01, 2008

Trisha Hopkins

Trisha Hopkins

In Utpal Roy's "Engineering Graphics and Computer Aided Design" (MAE 184) course, first-year students work collaboratively to create the inner gear mechanisms for a working clock. Students design component pieces on the computer, and their designs are then used to make components on a rapid prototyping machine that are put together in the final collaborative work.

The introductory course is a requirement for all first-year students in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science and optional for other majors. With a large contingent of students (116 were enrolled this semester) and computer clusters that are not conducive to collaborative work, Roy has long hoped to find a way to enhance the course and his students' learning experiences.

Roy is now getting that chance, as he was recently named the first recipient of the L.C. Smith Award for Faculty Excellence. A $25,000 gift from LCS chemical engineering alumnus Brian Beals '64, and his wife, Emily, of Jasper, Ga., was matched by LCS to provide a total $50,000 award to Roy. He will use the funds to develop a dedicated design studio and to redevelop to curriculum for MAE 184.

The Bealses modeled their gift after a summer stipend program at Emily's alma mater, DePauw University, that is designed to help faculty create and engage in their own professional development.

"We learned that there are minimal financial opportunities available for SU professors to engage in professional development, such as research, new course development and skill development," says Brian Beals. "We decided to propose such a program for Syracuse so that academic programs could ultimately benefit by affording faculty members an opportunity to implement projects designed to keep the University's programs abreast of both current and anticipated developments in the field."

"The LCS Faculty Excellence Award is unique and important in that it specifically rewards faculty who are student focused. This year's award winner, Utpal Roy, will be refreshing and enhancing a key first-year design course taken by mechanical and aerospace engineering students," says LCS Interim Dean Shiu-Kai Chin. "Such innovations have a tremendous effect on large numbers of students at a formative time in their undergraduate education. The first year is crucial to retaining our students, and Professor Roy's work supported by this award shows great promise of enhancing the experience of first-year students."

Roy's proposal was recommended for the award by a committee of peers representing the four departments within LCS, chaired by Gus Engbretson, chair of the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. "The selection committee received some excellent proposals, and I wish we could have funded all of them," says Engbretson. "Dr. Roy's proposal really got to the heart of having a positive effect on a large number of undergraduate students.

"Normally, the available local funding for educational grants is not as large as the funding for this award," Engbretson says. "I am excited that Dr. Roy can use these funds to put significant time and effort by him and other personnel to develop an approach and a facility that will enhance the educational outcomes of this course. Brian and Emily Beals showed tremendous insight and generosity in making this possible."

Roy envisions a dedicated space with a small cluster of large-screen computers configured for CAD applications, as well as several drafting tables and flat files. An adjacent room would house a rapid prototyping machine and a large-format plotter. An instructor or teaching assistant would be available in the room for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

"We currently have adequate computer facilities for instructional purposes, but we are lacking a place where students can spread out a drawing to take measurements for reverse engineering, brainstorm new design ideas as a group, or where an instructor can demonstrate hands-on application of design/drawing interpretations and creation," Roy says.

With the award, Roy also plans to redevelop the MAE 184 course, including lectures and a laboratory portion with a network-based, self-paced introduction to solid modeling software and supervised application of the software. Roy plans to develop projects over a wide range of cross-disciplinary and practical engineering problems that will give students "real-world" experience. In the future, he envisions reaching out to local industry and small businesses for collaboration with the students, and expanding the course to include students from other engineering disciplines also.

"This award presents a real opportunity to help improve this course," says Roy. "Reconfiguration of the course that has a stronger, hands-on/real-world component will also promote interest in engineering and design among the students."

Roy expects to implement the newly redeveloped course and facilities in the Fall 2008 semester.

The Bealses are hoping that this pilot program in LCS will be emulated across the University in years to come. "Emily and I have been quite pleased with the process and the selection of Dr. Roy as the first recipient of the L.C. Smith Award for Faculty Excellence, " says Beals. "The type of project proposed by Dr. Roy is an excellent example of the intended purpose of the award. We are hopeful that this program will continue in the college and serve as a model for other schools and colleges within the University to implement."

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