ASU lecturer receives national engineering teaching award

Enriching educational experience springs from ASU teacher's rapport with students

July 17, 2017

Casey Ankeny has taught almost 2,500 students in 28 classes — in multiple versions of five different courses — since joining the faculty of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering as a lecturer only four years ago.

Often about 100-plus students have been in those classes, which all together cover subject matter spanning nearly the entire range of the undergraduate biomedical engineering curriculum from introductory classes to rigorous upper-level courses. Ankeny wins national teaching award from American Society of Engineering Education Lecturer Casey Ankeny (center) has demonstrated “dedication to addressing the individual needs of every one of her students,” says a recent ASU biomedical engineering graduate. Ankeny is pictured at a “Feast With Faculty” gathering with students in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Photographer: Rose Serago/ASU Download Full Image

That is “absolutely remarkable” enough in itself, said Associate Professor Jeffrey Kleim, associate director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering. But also consider that in those four years Ankeny’s teacher evaluations have scored at or close to the highest possible rating.

“To obtain such a high rating across such a diverse set of large courses is unheard of in our program,” Kleim said.

Recent string of teaching awards

Over those years, Ankeny has won the program’s undergraduate teaching award — an award decided on by students — and the Rookie of the Year teaching award from the local chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society.

Her faculty colleagues also recently gave her a Top 5 Percent Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding instructors across all six Fulton Schools, and she also won the Fulton Schools Outstanding Lecturer Award this year.

Those accomplishments figured into the mix of what the American Society of Engineering Education considered in selecting Ankeny as winner of its 2017 Biomedical Engineering Teaching Award. She received the honor at the ASEE’s recent annual national conference.

The 12,000-member organization of faculty members, students and leaders from more than 400 educational institutions, along with representatives of government agencies, professional associations and more than 50 corporations, is one of the world’s most prominent advocates for quality in engineering education.

Colleagues praise commitment to students

ASEE officials had plenty of testimony to the quality of Ankeny’s teaching in the comments by fellow faculty members and students in letters nominating her for the annual teaching award.

Kleim emphasized her teaching approach that “allows her to establish a rapport with her students that I have rarely seen at the undergraduate level. To put it simply, they love her classes.”

Sarah Stabenfeldt, associate professor of biomedical engineering, points to her collaboration with Ankeny on revamping curriculum for biomaterials studies as evidence of Ankeny’s “dedication to innovative pedagogy” and “unwavering pursuit of advancing the classroom experience to a more student-centric mode.”

That project, for instance, transformed Introduction to Biomaterials “into one of the most engaging courses in our entire curriculum,” Stabenfeldt said.

She also notes Ankeny’s relatively prolific authorship of engineering education research papers and conference research presentations, produced while she handled the demands of her full teaching load.

“I cannot overstate the positive effects that her teaching and leadership styles have had on me and my peers,” wrote Kandace Donaldson, who received her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering this past spring and says Ankeny has motivated her to pursue a doctoral degree.

 “It has been extremely rewarding for me to witness the growth of students’ problem solving skills in a classroom that is constantly evolving to benefit their learning,” Donaldson wrote, further pointing to Ankeny’s commitment to creative teaching methods and “dedication to addressing the individual needs of every one of her students.”

Captivating educator, inspiring role model

More than a teacher, Ankeny is “a caring role model” and “an amazing mentor” to many students, wrote Aldin Malkoc, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees as one of Ankeny’s students and research assistants.

Malkoc also credits her with the ability to create “a new and better version” of courses she teaches for the first time.

Ankeny is able to “captivate her students and ensure each one had a comprehensive understanding of the material,” wrote Mikayle Holm, a 2016 graduate who completed her undergraduate honors studies thesis under Ankeny’s supervision.

At one time, Holm wrote of herself, she was “questioning my abilities to be a competitive scientist,” but Ankeny’s mentorship “has inspired me as a young female researcher to pursue a graduate degree.”

Jake Packer, a senior biomedical engineering major serving as a teaching assistant to Ankeny, has been especially impressed with her “exceptional ability to connect with students.”

He wrote that “she makes a concerted effort to learn and remember students’ names, a rare trait” among professors who teach classes of a hundred or more students.

He also likes Ankeny’s method of guiding students in “creating their own experiments, instead of providing a ready-made lab procedure to follow. This allows the students practice to create, innovate, and question more, instead of simply ‘completing the assignment.’”

Poised to have long-term impact on teaching methods

There is little doubt all these multiple talents led to Ankeny’s upcoming positions as an assistant professor of instruction and biomedical engineering master’s degree program director at Northwestern University.

She will still be able to make a long-range impact on ASU students through her role as a co-principal investigator for a research project supported by the National Science Foundation and led by Fulton Schools Professor Stephen Krause.

The endeavor aims to prepare more than 80 ASU engineering faculty members to implement a variety of new evidence-based strategies and techniques designed to produce more effective teaching.

Ankeny is exploring the potential of interactive platforms for improving teaching methods. Specifically, she is investigating “cyber-based student engagement strategies” to enhance learning — using online lectures and instruction, smartphone apps and other cyber resources.

Of her contribution to the project so far, Krause said, “She has encouraged the uncertain and made believers of the skeptics in helping faculty members bring inspiring new innovations into their own classrooms.”

“My true passion is teaching, so once I learned about the work Stephen Krause is doing, I was hooked,” Ankeny said.

“Working with students is my favorite thing. Seeing them develop and become capable of doing wonderful things, and helping them figure out what they want to do in their careers,” she said. “This is what is the most rewarding for me.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU engineer seeks to develop better plastics, faster

July 17, 2017

Plastics are everywhere. They’re relatively strong, inexpensive, easy to manufacture and generally resistant to water and other chemicals.

Plastic polymer fibers can exceed high-strength steel in strength-to-weight ratios, and they can get even better, says Jay Oswald, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. That is, if we can get around limitations in the materials development process. Portrait of Jay Oswald Jay Oswald, assistant professor of mechanical engineering Download Full Image

“The rate at which we can make these improvements is limited by the current understanding of the relationships linking the chemistry, processing, structure and physical properties of plastics,” Oswald says.

Current methods take an empirical approach, with progress in discovering improved chemistry and material processes taking 10 to 20 years.

Oswald is developing models to overcome these roadblocks to progress as part of a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award project, “Novel Coarse-Grained Simulations to Study Relationships Linking Morphology and Plastic Resistance in Semi-Crystalline Polymers.”

“We are developing new models that take into consideration the arrangement of the long-chain molecules that make up polymers to build a new understanding of how the small structural details of these materials affects their engineering properties, such as strength and toughness, thus allowing for rapid, computer-guided design of better plastics,” said Oswald, a faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools.

Presently, simulations for molecular details only take into account billionths of a second and billionths of a meter, limiting them to very few applications. Oswald is finding ways to increase the scope of these simulations.

“We are developing new ways to combine and condense information from very detailed, fine-scale simulations into models that are orders of magnitude more computationally efficient in order to connect how details at the molecular scale influence properties of plastics at time and length scales relevant to many practical engineering problems, such as making cars safer or improving protective gear for police and military forces,” Oswald said.

The capabilities of Oswald’s research group are further extended by the opportunities for collaborative and interdisciplinary research from ASU and the Fulton Schools.

“ASU’s commitment to investing in research infrastructure, especially high-performance computing, is instrumental in making this research possible,” Oswald said.

Advancing the capabilities of plastics is an area of research with much to be gained in knowledge, job growth and revenue for industry.

“The plastics industry is one of the few sectors in the United States' economy that enjoys a trade surplus,” Oswald said. “However, to remain competitive, the country must maintain its scientific leadership in polymer science, which entails promoting scientific discovery of new knowledge, developing innovative approaches to designing better materials, and maintaining a pipeline to feed the plastics industry with highly trained engineers and scientists.”

His NSF CAREER Award-funded research will combine the important research in polymer science with educational and outreach efforts to enable the nation to meet its workforce needs.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering