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Professor Michael E. Webber is awarded the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award. From left to right: Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, Chairman of the Board of Regents Gene Powell, Assistant Professor Michael Webber, Vice-Chairman Steve Hicks.

Professor Michael E. Webber is awarded the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award. From left to right: Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, Chairman of the Board of Regents Gene Powell, Assistant Professor Michael Webber, Vice-Chairman Steve Hicks.

Dr. Michael E. Webber has been awarded the 2011 Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, granted by The University of Texas Systems' Board of Regents for outstanding faculty performance. Dr. Webber is one of the 34 faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin to receive the award this year, and one of two from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He was nominated by Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Joe Beaman.

Awarded annually to faculty members at the nine University of Texas System academic institutions, the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards are the Board of Regents' highest honor. "Established by the Board of Regents in 2008, the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards complement a wide range of System wide efforts that underscore the Board of Regents' commitment to ensuring the UT System is a place of intellectual exploration and discovery, educational excellence and unparalleled opportunity." With monetary awards ranging from $15,000-$30,000, the award is among the nation's largest and most competitive awards for exemplary undergraduate instruction, innovation, and classroom performance.

Dr. Webber, the Educator

Dr. Webber speaking at city hall.

Dr. Webber speaking at city hall.

"Most professors know a lot about a little. Dr. Webber knows a lot about a lot of things," said Courtney Grosvenor, one of Dr. Webber's former research assistants. Dr. Webber is widely known among his students for his eclecticism and ability to bring together diverse ideas. Several of his courses take a multidisciplinary approach to studying energy and include discussion of application through policy, a nice change of pace from the department's many rigorously technical classes. The hallmark of a "Webber student," he says, is that they are well-rounded and multi-faceted high-performers who are capable of communicating effectively to a wide range of audiences, including their technical peers at scientific conferences, legislators at the capitol, or local schoolchildren.

Even outside of the classroom, Dr. Webber is revered for his approachability, charisma, and genuine care for his students. "Sometimes I'd walk through where his office is... and we'd just start chatting. He's just a wonderful guy to talk to. Always happy, he's always smiling, loves what he does," said one former student in a video discussion. Many students love his tendency to share life stories and impart wisdom beyond the course material. Courtney Grosvenor recalls one instance where Dr. Webber explained that, upon reaching every fork in the path of his career, he has always chosen the lower-paying job - a credo that has led him to outstanding success and fulfillment. His approach to such a successful career can validate a recent graduate's decision to put fulfillment and principle above money.

Teaching Philosophy

My mission is to change the way the world thinks about energy. My approach is to use the living laboratory of the university to create an educational environment where students can explore their passions for energy and the environment in independent, self-guided ways. The result is that they develop a deep understanding of energy from a multidisciplinary perspective that includes engineering, science, economics, culture, and history, which they combine with leadership, communication, and civic engagement. I use traditional techniques (lectures with thought-provoking questions), field trips, multimedia tools, and unconventional historical documents to create a fun-spirited classroom setting where creativity and curiosity can flourish.

- Dr. Michael Webber

Telling of his success in this mission is the depth by which Dr. Webber affects his pupils. Several former students have stated that his enthusiasm is contagious, while others go as far as to say his courses were life-changing and gave them a sense of what they want to do with their lives. Dr. Webber himself reports witnessing "ah-ha" moments during class after which students switch the directions of their careers because they find his material so engaging and important. "Professor Webber is one of those instructors that makes UT such a great institution," wrote one student. "I think that every university should have a Dr. Webber."

Dr. Webber's spring 2011 research assistants. From left to right: Dr. Michael Webber, Mary Clayton (current Webber graduate student, recipient of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship), John Fyffe (current graduate student at Stanford University), James Newman (current Webber undergraduate research assistant who will join Kinder Morgan in 2012), and Courtney Grosvenor (mechanical engineer, National Oilwell Varco).

Dr. Webber's spring 2011 research assistants. From left to right: Dr. Michael Webber, Mary Clayton (current Webber graduate student, recipient of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship), John Fyffe (current graduate student at Stanford University), James Newman (current Webber undergraduate research assistant who will join Kinder Morgan in 2012), and Courtney Grosvenor (mechanical engineer, National Oilwell Varco).

Going Above and Beyond

Dr. Webber keeps his classroom innovative and interactive through creative use of technology and the most contemporary teaching practices available. One such practice is his use of five-button "remote clickers" which students use during lectures to answer questions. Dr. Webber uses these clickers as a method for taking roll, quizzing students about reading assignments, and gauging general reactions to different topics and ideas. He also often assigns students to create blogs and podcasts to hone their writing abilities and develop communication skills.

For a select few students, learning under Dr. Webber is much more. As part of his mission as a teacher Dr. Webber encourages his students to actively engage in the world even during their undergraduate careers, most notably through direct participation in research. Not only are undergraduate students encouraged to submit papers to peer-reviewed conferences and journals, many eventually go on to become the lead authors for their own work with graduate students listed as a second author.

But for Dr. Webber's research students, the experience doesn't end there. Once or twice a year, Dr. Webber takes his research group on retreats to conferences around the country in order to develop leadership, tumbledown, public-speaking, and goal-setting skills. Past destinations have included San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. Although conference retreats are reserved for his research group, Dr. Webber also organizes guest lectures and local field trips for all of his students. Some of these have included trips to the Fayette Power Plant, the Tom Miller Dam, and the Heliovolt factory.

Dr. Webber's entire research group at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., February 2011.

Dr. Webber's entire research group at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., February 2011.

Michael Webber's Credentials

Michael's education includes a B.A. with High Honors (Plan II Liberal Arts) and B.S. with High Honors (Aerospace Engineering) from The University of Texas at Austin, and an M.S. (Mechanical Engineering) and Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Electrical Engineering) from Stanford University, where he was a National Science Foundation Fellow from 1995-1998.

Prior to returning to The University of Texas at Austin as a faculty member, Michael studied issues relevant to energy, innovation, manufacturing, and national security at the RAND Corporation. Previously, he was a Senior Scientist at Pranalytica, where he invented sensors for Homeland Security, industrial analysis, and environmental monitoring.

Michael Webber presenting his research at a conference.

Michael Webber presenting his research at a conference.

A highly sought public speaker, he has given more than 175 lectures, speeches, and invited talks in the last few years, including testimony for hearings of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, keynotes for scientific conferences, lectures at the United Nations, and briefings for executives at some of the nation's leading companies. He is on the board of advisors for Scientific American, holds four patents, and is one of the originators of the Pecan Street Project, which is a $30 million public-private partnership for smart grid innovation and deployment.


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