Auburn University's Department of Biosystems Engineering recognized for excellence in education

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Auburn University's Department of Biosystems Engineering has been selected to receive the 2015 University Senate Departmental Award for Excellence in Education, an honor that carries with it a $30,000 grant that will be administered in three yearly installments of $10,000 and used for activities that enhance teaching and learning.

"This award recognizes excellence in teaching that enhances the relationship between teaching and improved student learning," said Auburn University President Jay Gogue. "The selection of the Department of Biosystems Engineering as this year's award recipient reflects the department's outstanding accomplishments in the area of teaching."

The award, established at Auburn in 2013 and first presented in 2014, is administered through the University Senate Teaching Effectiveness Committee on behalf of the Office of the Provost. Biosystems engineering will be formally recognized as recipient during the faculty awards program in the fall.

In early 2015, academic departments across campus were invited to submit to the Teaching Effectiveness Committee pre-proposals summarizing the departmental philosophy of teaching and learning, a narrative describing the approaches used to achieve and measure excellence in those areas and letters of recommendation from former students. Three finalists were selected to prepare and present portfolios of learning excellence and plans for future activities to enhance teaching and learning.

"Our philosophy is to provide a high-quality, student-centered environment that enhances learning and produces very competent engineers," Steve Taylor, department head and professor, said. "We are preparing our students to solve the engineering problems associated with the major global challenges of food, water, energy, environment and climate."

The department's teaching and learning goals for the next three years include enhancing students' writing skills; instilling in students a deeper understanding of the global economic, environmental and societal impacts of engineering solutions to problems; and improving students' ability to apply what they learn in their courses to the design process.

"To achieve these goals, we plan to implement five specific activities to enrich the effectiveness of our teaching and improve undergraduate student experiences in biosystems engineering," Taylor said. "All activities are based on the concept of spiral curricula."

In a spiral curriculum, students are introduced to fundamental concepts their freshman year and cover those concepts, in increasing complexity, through their senior year. The department's newest major, ecological engineering, was developed using this approach.

Among those five activities, the department will expand spiral curriculum exercises to the department's biosystems engineering and forest engineering options; strengthen all faculty members' understanding of the department's entire curriculum and technical subject areas; extend the spiraling approach to the design experiences of the students; establish formal programs that will build a multicultural ethic among students; and introduce industry and alumni activities at different points in the spiral.

The Department of Biosystems Engineering is home to more than 180 undergraduate and graduate students and 12 full-time faculty members. Taylor, professor and undergraduate program coordinator Oladiran Fasina and associate professor Sushil Adhikari prepared the award-winning portfolio and presentation.

"This award from our colleagues at Auburn is very special," Taylor said.  "Although we have received over $7.1 million in several nationally competitive federal grants to improve our teaching programs, this award shows that our peers at Auburn appreciate the team approach, hard work and dedication by our faculty to educate the best possible biosystems, ecological and forest engineers."

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