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Dr. Carolyn Seepersad in the classroom teaching Design of Complex Energy Systems, a graduate course.

Dr. Carolyn Seepersad in the classroom teaching Design of Complex Energy Systems, a graduate course.

 

Dr. Carolyn Seepersad has been awarded the Dean's Award for Outstanding Teaching by an Assistant Professor. Only one assistant professor receives the award each year in the Cockrell School. The award was made officially on May 21 during a luncheon and again during graduation.

Research, Mentoring and Teaching

Dr. Seepersad became an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering department in the spring 2005, and now teaches ME 397/379 Solid Freeform Fabrication, which she defines as “the use of additive manufacturing processes for producing parts directly from computer models, without part-specific tooling” She also teaches ME 397, the Design of Complex Engineering Systems, and ME 366J, Mechanical Design Methodology. In addition to her classroom teaching duties, she has been actively involved in a number of educational and mentoring initiatives, including the school chapter of Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society), and interviewing the finalists of the Rhodes and Hertz scholarships, two scholarships she received herself. She regularly participates in the community outreach events, Explore UT (the university open house) and WE@UT, an event sponsored by the Women in Engineering Program.

Since her arrival in 2005, she has supervised seven graduate students and advised 19 undergraduate researchers, including three Plan II honors theses one of whom earned a George H. Mitchell Award for Excellence in Graduate Research and became a peer-reviewed conference publication.

In addition to teaching, she is an accomplished researcher focused in the areas of Engineering Design and Additive Manufacturing. She is the PI (principal investigator) or co-PI on $1.2M of research funding from a variety of agencies, including government agencies, national laboratories and private industry. In 2009 she was named the International Outstanding Young Researcher in Freeform and Additive Manufacturing and received the Best Paper Award at the 2009 Design Theory and Methodology Conference of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers).

Student Evaluations and Letters

Students consistently rank their learning experience with Dr. Seepersad highly, scoring as high as 4.8/5.0. Students write that her advice was very helpful, her teaching effective and well organized, and they see her as a role model. One student wrote that she has inspired him to heights he never expected to attain. In his nomination letter, Professor Kristin Wood wrote: “It truly amazes me that she is able to achieve such a high quality of teaching at such a young stage of her career.” This sentiment was echoed in the recommendation letters and student course reviews. Students also noted that if she did not know the answer to a question posed in class, she would research it and have an answer at the beginning of the next class period. They appreciated the fact that she makes herself available to them far beyond normal office hours. One student expressed great appreciation for help applying to "three fellowships, a conference paper and a proposal during finals, Christmas, New Years and Valentine’s Day."

Teaching Philosophy

Like most engineering professors, Dr. Seepersad took no formal classes in education as a student, but she has used her creativity, analytical mind, curiosity and drive to analyze and improve upon the engineering learning experience and teaching methodology. She has received awards for her innovations in engineering design curricula and hands-on experiences for the early undergraduate curricula. She continually publishes her pedagogical approaches and subject content in peer-reviewed periodicals. She uses this feedback with care and resolve, while also sharing her insights and innovations with colleagues worldwide.

She refers to herself as a "facilitator of learning whose mission is to mentor, to challenge, to build emotional excitement, and to break the vortex of averages." She strives "to design concrete experiences that serve as catalysts for learning, and to create assessment tools that help students think critically about those experiences and articulate and internalize lessons learned." Read more about her in a Rhodes Scholars interview, February 2009.

Experiential learning

Dr. Seepersad incorporates learning theory into her work, and believes very strongly in the use of experiential learning, aka "learning by experience." She begins each course with a hands-on activity to motivate the subject matter. She writes that she "actively engages the students' minds via their senses, their hands, and their sense of purpose."

Writing for Reflective Learning

Before Dr. Seepersad began teaching atThe University of Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering in January 2005, she came to the Faculty Innovation Center’s (FIC) new faculty orientation in August. She consulted with Dr. Kathy Schmidt, the former FIC director, on how to encourage reflective thinking, the type of thinking that causes one to ponder. She attended monthly instructional meetings for new faculty and actively participated in these events.

Everyone learns with a combination of active (hands-on), experiential (learning by experience) learning and reflective learning. However, if a student only learned with reflective learning, he/she might never create anything—just think about it. If a student used only active learning, he/she may not understand the underlying principals, would design using a clumsy trial and error approach, and when the project was completed, may not have analyzed the design process well enough to significantly improve the design and/or design process the next time. Seepersad has studied the responses of students to her various methods and assignments, quantified the research, and published it. The education of engineering has now become a key interest and research initiative.

Design Journals

Dr. Seepersad instigated the use of design journals to help students analyze their design work as it was being produced and also serve as guidelines for future design work. The design journal part of her teaching process took some tweaking, as the original assignment the students thought was too much busywork. Later iterations of the assignment made the journals simpler and quicker to write and much more useful to the students, both in the design process, and later when making derivative or similar type of design decisions. Former students have incorporated the idea into their professional careers, as was Dr. Seepersad's initial intent.

Learning through Research

She believes research is the third tool teachers can use to excite and motivate student achievement and learning. She writes, "I strive to incorporate relevant research into my lectures, especially the curricula of the two new courses I have created, and I regularly integrate undergraduate students into my research laboratory and challenge them with meaningful projects."

The Department of Mechanical Engineering proudly acknowledges the excellent work Assistant Professor Carolyn Seepersad is doing in the classroom and beyond. We feel fortunate to have such a fine assistant professor in our department and look forward to seeing where her career takes her and her students in the future. Congratulations, Dr. Seepersad!

Dr. Seepersad, back row center holding award, with research team and models made by team members and students. Front row, left to right:  James Durand (undergrad), Vikram Sundar, Ray Ely, Lia Kashdan, and Matthew Saunders (master's students). Back row, left to right: Cassandra Telenko, Dr. Carolyn Seepersad and Peter Backlund (Ph.D. students).

Dr. Seepersad, back row center holding award, with research team and models made by team members and students. Front row, left to right: James Durand (undergrad), Vikram Sundar, Ray Ely, Lia Kashdan, and Matthew Saunders (master's students). Back row, left to right: Cassandra Telenko, Dr. Carolyn Seepersad and Peter Backlund (Ph.D. students).

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