Gao wins Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence


Susan Mumm, Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Grace Gao is the 2015 winner of the Engineering at Illinois Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence. Gao is an affiliate of ECE ILLINOIS.

Grace Xingxin Gao
Grace Xingxin Gao

Since joining the Aerospace Engineering faculty in 2012, Gao has strengthened the undergraduate course ECE456/AE456, Global Navigation Satellite Systems, which covers the Global Positioning System (GPS)  and other navigation systems.

In addition to increasing the course’s availability, Gao emphasizes hands-on lab work that has given students a more direct experience of the technology. Multiple research papers have resulted from class projects, and one has earned a “Best Presentation of the Session” award at a major technical conference.

Gao also has made it a priority to open the pipeline between industry and her students. One way she has done that is by inviting guest lecturers from companies to interact with the class.

“It’s a win-win because students get motivated when they realize what they are learning has practical application, while companies have the chance to collect resumes from top students,” she said. “I already have students working on GPS-related jobs in companies, such as Rockwell Collins, Raytheon, Apple, Boeing, Air Force Institute of Technology, and more."

Gao’s efforts for the course have also attracted industry support, and a number of companies have supplied funding to further develop it.

Gao’s courses attract students of many engineering disciplines, including from ECE ILLINOIS, Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Science and Engineering, Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, and Computer Science. Students who helped contribute to Gao’s nomination for the Everitt Award said she has made sure course content is applicable to each of the students’ majors.

Her approach to final presentations also has been popular, extending grading privileges to the entire class. Students watch their peers’ presentations and rank each project by text messaging, which Gao collects in real time.

Gao came to Illinois from Stanford University, where she had been a research associate in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department after earning a PhD in Electrical Engineering there in 2008. She had earned two degrees from Tsinghua University in China: a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 2001, and a master’s in electrical engineering in 2003.

The Everitt Award, recognizing outstanding undergraduate teaching in the college, was established in 1968 in honor of Dean Emeritus William L. Everitt at the time of his retirement.