Three faculty members in the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University received Outstanding Teacher Awards for 2018-19 at the College’s spring faculty meeting.
Dr. Mohamed Bourham is an Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor of Nuclear Engineering; Dr. Joseph DeCarolis is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE); and Dr. Brina Montoya is an assistant professor in CCEE.
The award recognizes excellence in teaching at all levels and is a prerequisite for being considered for the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award. Recipients become members of the Academy of Outstanding Teachers for as long as they are NC State faculty members. Recognition is given at commencement, the Celebration of Academic Excellence and the Teaching and Learning Symposium.
During his 32 years at NC State, Bourham has been a successful and well-regarded professor because he understands that teaching isn’t just delivering course material, but also involves constant preparation and improvement of that material so that students are learning the latest information in the best possible way.
Bourham’s deep knowledge of and contributions to nuclear engineering are critical in helping his students understand the course material, and he is also known as an approachable, helpful professor who wants his students to succeed. One former student wrote, “Dr. Bourham is probably the kindest, most understanding, and one of the most knowledgeable professors at the University. He is a model professor, who(m) others should aspire towards.”
Another student said that Bourham provided some of the most useful feedback to students. “He is an extremely kind professor and looked forward to your questions after class. He always answered questions beyond adequately and truly cared about the students learning the material.”
Throughout his time at NC State, Bourham has improved courses, as well as developed design projects and special topics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has also chaired or co-chaired committees for 20 Ph.D. and 38 M.S. students, and his mentorship to graduate students was recognized when he was named an Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor. His research is far-reaching and collaborative, and he often involves undergraduates in his research projects. Bourham was awarded the George Blessis Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor in 2003.
Dr. Joseph DeCarolis is an exemplary instructor who is recognized for his contributions both inside and outside of the classroom during his 11 years on the NC State faculty.
Known for his engaging lectures and as a positive mentor to his students, DeCarolis strives to incorporate interdisciplinary topics beyond engineering concepts in his classes so that students can learn how to exercise judgement when addressing challenging, open-ended problems. One student wrote, “I feel that the discussion around social issues in engineering and ethics and equity was very beneficial in that students don’t always get the opportunity to get exposure to these topics.”
To reach students of all learning types, DeCarolis has also incorporated a variety of engaging teaching methods, including guided notes, polling and exercises to encourage creative thinking. “He did everything in his effort to make sure students understood the material being taught,” a former student wrote.
Among faculty members, DeCarolis has an excellent reputation for his enthusiasm and involvement in the department. He is the leader of the Environmental, Water Resources and Coastal Engineering group and has been involved with NC State’s FREEDM Systems Center. Throughout his teaching career, he has organized many lectures and worked across departments, and between 2011 and 2016, it is estimated he reached approximately 1,500 students per year through his courses and lectures.
DeCarolis developed two of his own courses, Energy Modeling and Energy and Climate, and three additional courses in collaboration with other faculty members. His contributions have helped integrate engineering with economics and public policy to address local and global issues. “Together, these classes have increased our department’s and the University’s pedagogy (instructional capacity and impact on students’ learning) in sustainability, energy modeling and climate issues,” a colleague shared.
Since 2012, Montoya has made exceptional contributions to NC State through her dedication to ensuring that her students understand fundamental engineering concepts and become independent, lifelong learners.
Because students have different learning styles, Montoya incorporates several teaching techniques, including flipped classrooms, hands-on demonstrations, guided lecture handouts and independent research projects. Her students appreciate that her classes show them the real-world and practical applications of engineering concepts.
Many former students have noted Montoya’s willingness to help students fully grasp their course material. One former student wrote, “She was a really great teacher and very receptive to students. In this class, I felt very comfortable asking questions due to her respect for students and passion for teaching.”
Montoya’s fellow professors noted that she has made significant contributions to the department through her courses on soil mechanics, geotechnics and the undergraduate foundation course. Montoya is highly regarded in the geotechnical community, and she developed a new graduate course in her area of expertise, Physico-Chemical and Biological Aspects of Soils Behavior.
Montoya is also a strong mentor to female engineering students, in part through her co-organization of the We are Women in Engineering program in the department. “Dr. Montoya is exhibiting leadership as a teacher and as a contributor to the department’s education mission. Dr. Montoya is an emerging leader and a fantastic role model for her students at all levels,” a colleague wrote.