Loui receives distinguished Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring

5/6/2013 Gabrielle Irvin, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE Professor Michael C. Loui was awarded the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring, presented by the Graduate College, on Tuesday, April 23.

Written by Gabrielle Irvin, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE Professor and University Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Michael Loui was awarded the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring, presented by the Graduate College at Illinois, on Tuesday, April 23.

Loui, who was an associate dean of the Graduate College from 1996 to 2000, teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses including “Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering,” “Professional Ethics,” “College Teaching,” and “Technology Communication, and Contemporary Society.” His research interests include engineering education, scholarship of teaching and learning, ethics in engineering and computing, and computational complexity theory.

Loui, editor of the Journal of Engineering Education, is currently on sabbatical at Purdue University where he attends classes and learns about education research. Although on sabbatical, he continues to meet with and mentor graduate students weekly in Urbana. Not only does he mentor graduate students in engineering, he also supervises students in other areas of study. He has “particularly broad interests,” and has supervised students in anthropology, educational psychology, mathematics, and computer science.

Michael Loui
Michael Loui

Renata Revelo Alonso (BSEE ’07, MSEE ’09), a PhD student in higher education and former ECE student, and Kathryn Trenshaw, a PhD student in chemical and bimolecular engineering, wrote letters of support to endorse Loui’s outstanding mentorship.

Revelo Alonso works with Loui in engineering education research. Currently, Revelo Alonso and Loui are creating a mentoring model that describes the relationship between mentors and protégés. Loui has been instrumental in her graduate studies.

“Prior to my PhD, I studied electrical engineering and had little knowledge about engineering education research,” Revelo Alonso said. “Professor Loui gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from him. He has supported me from the beginning and has connected me with individuals across the country. I think he fully embodies what it means to be a mentor to graduate students because he goes beyond just being an adviser. He truly cares about my development as a person and as a professional.”

Trenshaw’s thesis focuses on improving motivation in engineering courses and investigates the climate in engineering for LGBT students. She works as a research assistant for Loui and visiting assistant professor Geoffrey Lindsay Herman (BSEE ’05, MSEE’07, PhD ’11) to help demonstrate how to transform core engineering courses to increase students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.

In order to promote intrinsic motivation in ECE 290, they altered the course to encourage more student choice, and they implemented project-based assignments. They showed that no harm was done to student learning (students had the same conceptual learning gains as students in the original course design) and documented that student attitudes and motivation increased with the new course design.

“Professor Loui is knowledgeable about my research, and when he isn’t, he offers up connections and resources,” Trenshaw said.  “He’s always trying to help you network and get the right background on your research. He models what I would want to do as a teacher – he’s a role model in terms of teaching and research.

One of Loui’s current projects studies the incorporation of professional ethics into technical engineering courses. Loui and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Springfield have gathered preliminary data that suggests that, in an introductory computing course, students who have been introduced to professional ethics early on pay more attention and spend more time debugging their code (computer programs) because they understand the potential harms of technical work.

“Most professors think that, if they have to integrate instruction in professional ethics and responsibility into a technical course, the ethics instruction will take time away from technical material, and as a consequence students will wind up less technically competent,” Loui said. “We have the opposite hypothesis. If we explain to students what their responsibilities as professionals are, they will be more highly motivated and will pay more attention to their work. In ethics instruction, we connect professional identity and motivation with the quality of technical work.”

Nominations for the award are evaluated based on sustained excellence in graduate student mentoring, innovative approaches to graduate advising, major impact on graduate student scholarship and professional development, and other contributions to improve graduate mentorship.

The award consists of $2,000 for the personal use of the award recipient, a $10,000 fellowship allotted to the recipient’s academic unit from the Graduate College, and a $1,000 stipend allocated to the recipient’s academic unit to support graduate student conference travel. 

“I feel honored to be recognized for the award because there are many excellent graduate mentors on campus. I feel fortunate and thankful that my graduate students have asked me to accompany them on their journeys through graduate school,” Loui said. 

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This story was published May 6, 2013.