Umberto Ravaioli receives the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising
After many years of advising and mentoring students, Senior Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs and ECE Professor Umberto Ravaioli was recognized for his student advising by being named a recipient of the 2011 Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising. The award was presented at the Celebration of Teaching Excellence event sponsored by the Provost’s office on April 26. Twenty-one other awards were given to faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants in recognition of excellence in teaching, advising and mentoring students.
“It was a great personal honor for me to receive the campus advising award,” said Ravaioli, who is also a researcher in the Beckman Institute and an affiliate of the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab and the Coordinated Science Lab. “But as senior assistant dean in the college, it was infinitely more gratifying to be also in the company of so many other engineering colleagues recognized for their dedication to our students. The evening clearly demonstrated that the College of Engineering is extraordinarily committed to the teaching and mentoring mission to a degree that is comparable to our commitment to excellence in research.”
Ravaioli went on to say, “My advising philosophy is very simple. The most important thing is to listen to the students and take as much time as necessary to understand their issues.”
Over the years many students have recognized Ravaioli for his assistance in helping them succeed. He was named seven times to the Outstanding Advisors List in the College of Engineering.
“I used to spend a lot of time with my ECE advisees to discuss career options,” he said. “I keep doing the same when I have a chance in the college office, and maybe I spend some time dispelling myths, too,” he joked.
Over the six years he has spent in the Engineering Undergraduate Programs office, Ravaioli has seen literally thousands of students. “Some come to me thinking it’s the end of the world because they failed a class or because they are having a hard time in school,” he said. “I always try to show them how to turn a weakness into strength or how to use a failure as the starting point for future success.” Often students are unaware of the additional resources available to them, from the extra tutoring provided by the College of Engineering to campus resources such as the Counseling Center. “I try to find out why the student is struggling,” he said. “Some students might have problems with taking timed exams, or simply need more help to learn the material and improve their studying skills.”
While many students go see Dean Ravaioli because they need help and guidance in improving their academic standing, these are not the only students on his radar screen. “Whenever I can, I try to engage also any of the students in good standing to make sure that they take full advantage of the astounding range of opportunities available at Illinois,“ Ravaioli said. “One of my personal goals is to increase even more the number of undergraduate students involved with research so that they are best prepared for graduate studies or for a professional career.”
In addition to his work as the senior assistant dean, which makes him responsible for overseeing student academic advising and running the James Scholar honors program for the college of engineering, Ravaioli still finds time to teach and do research. His research group based at the Beckman Institute uses computer simulation to study issues like power dissipation in nanoscale integrated devices or charge transport in biological ion channels. Asked about his daily scheduled Ravaioli responded, “It’s tight,” but said he gets a strong satisfaction from his job.
“I always feel gratified when I see students who have come to me with some academic or personal difficulties, but a few semesters later everything has turned around because of my advice.” Among the students he has advised in recent years, several are now successful graduate students in the ECE department, and one undergraduate, who earlier experienced serious struggles in course work, went on to become teaching assistant for a course and is on his way to join a top computer company after graduation.
While his goal is to make students succeed in the College of Engineering, Ravaioli always tries to do what is in the best interest of the student. “If someone tells me that they really want to switch out of engineering, because their passion lies somewhere else, I’ll do whatever I can to make their dream come true,” he said. “Truth is, it is very difficult for many students to share their thoughts, and often I have to use all of my intuition to fully understand their situation. Some have suggested that I am telepathic. It’s not true, of course, but it’s fun to let them think I really am.”