Bernhard receives ECE teaching award

ECE News

Heather Punke, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE Professor Jennifer Bernhard is the 2011 recipient of the Ronald W. Pratt Faculty Outstanding Teaching Award.
  • A faculty member since 1999, Bernhard's teaching style has evolved to more hands-on learning.
  • Her students have praised Bernhard's engaging classes and her willingness to work with them one on one.

Jennifer Bernhard
Jennifer Bernhard

ECE Professor Jennifer Bernhard is the 2011 recipient of the Ronald W. Pratt Faculty Outstanding Teaching Award. She said receiving the award was a meaningful part of her teaching career. “It’s an acknowledgment of the effort I put forth for the students, and that feedback means a lot to me,” she said. “[I was] very excited and very humbled knowing who else has won it in the past.”

Bernhard has been teaching since 1995 and has been at Illinois since 1999. She has taught ECE 329: Fields and Waves I, ECE 437: Sensors and Instrumentation, ECE 454: Antennas, ECE 457: Microwaves and Circuits, and ECE 577: Advanced Antenna Theory.

Her favorite class to teach is ECE 457, because students enjoy the engineering-oriented capstone project. She is even using facets of ECE 457 in her other classes. “I’m integrating the same kinds of design and analysis projects into my other courses as well,” Bernhard said.

In her 16 years of teaching, Bernhard has seen teaching styles change and evolve. One change was a move from an emphasis on a lecture-based approach to one engaging students more during class, an approach she called “student-focused learning.” At first she was skeptical of that shift, because as a student she went through the typical lecture system.

But that skepticism did not last long. “Early on in my teaching career I really took it to heart. So a lot of my classes do have more student-focused learning activities, both in class and out of class, where students really have to think for themselves and provide feedback,” she said.

Bernhard now thinks hands-on work in the classroom is important for student development. “In order for students to not only learn but become engaged with a topic and want to learn more about it, they have to be active participants,” she said.

She tries to engage students in discussion or problem-solving activities during each lecture. Those activities help students develop what Bernhard calls “engineering instincts.”

“Having activities where students develop their own instincts is very important,” she said. “Having instincts about engineering, how things work, how things should work, and perhaps, most importantly, how things could work are the best things about being an engineer.”

Letters from former students in support of her nomination for this award indicate that her students have benefited from her teaching style. One former student said Bernhard taught her ECE 329 class “in a way that really grabbed your attention – which was especially good since it was at 9 a.m.”

When asked about her favorite part of teaching, Bernhard did not hesitate before she answered: “interacting with students.” She continued, “It’s great to see someone develop as they go through and remember them when they were young and see how they learn and apply themselves.”

Her enthusiasm for her students has not gone unnoticed. One of her former students noted that Bernhard “will take the extra time to interact with students one-on-one and [was] always willing to meet individually and discuss coursework or research.”

Bernhard also enjoys hearing from students who have graduated and gone on to careers in the real world. “To see people be a success and have what they learned at Illinois have a positive impact on both their careers and society is truly gratifying.”

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