Teaching Statement

Overview

Teaching and student mentoring are two primary motivations for my desire to continue work in academia. The opportunity to invest in the lives of eager young students is a challenging, yet rewarding experience. In addition, working with students allows me to think through difficult subjects and better understand underlying fundamentals in order to teach others in a meaningful, and relevant, way. Working with students who have no previous exposure to advanced research topics allows those of us in the research community to maintain proper perspective both in teaching and research.

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy centers around developing three core student outcomes: (1) Independently analyze problems and generate creative solutions; (2) Demonstrate leadership and flexibility when working in a team; (3) Communicate clearly and effectively across disciplines and audiences. These qualities are essential in preparing students for their post-graduate careers, whether in academia, industry, or government. Further, they apply not only to PhD-level graduates and post-doctoral scholars, but also to undergraduates and masters students. All coursework should be designed around one or more of these outcomes. While knowledge transfer of the intended subject matter is important, perhaps the more critical component is ensuring that students will know when and how they need to apply the knowledge they are acquiring. Particularly true for engineering, it is impossible to train a student for every possible scenario or problem they will encounter in their career. Therefore, as an educator, I strive to provide a strong foundation from which students can build on when they enter the workforce.

With respect to teaching courses, there have been several recent developments in learning methodologies that have sought to redefine the role of higher education institutions. For example, online learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs) have leveraged advancements in technological infrastructure to have potential impact on previously unreached populations through free or reduced-cost course offerings. However, in particular with MOOCs, completion rates are particularly low (~10%). While there are many reasons for this outcome, it is certainly in part due to the fact that online-only offerings fail to provide proper support and feedback to students that can generally only come through face-to-face interactions. This is why I am an advocate for “close learning,” as described by Scott Newstok of Rhodes College [1]. The idea of “close learning” is that while some aspects of teaching may be appropriate for online environments (or distance learning, in general), there will always be an inherent benefit to close proximity between teacher and student. This applies not only to online learning, but also traditional, large, in-person lectures where there is difficulty in forming individual connections with students. In my own teaching, I work on developing blended learning environments that combine appropriate online learning tools with in-classroom lectures and active learning activities. For example, in a large introductory circuit analysis course, I create short 3-5 minute videos after each lecture giving an overview of that day’s subject material to provide extra emphasis on the core ideas presented. During class, I utilize techniques such as think-pair-share, polling, and small group problem solving to reinforce the traditional lecture.

When advising and mentoring students, my goal is to provide sufficient direction and guidance to allow students to succeed on their own. In order to promote independent thinking, I challenge students under my supervision to take ownership of their individual projects and view me as a resource for troubleshooting. Of course, these interactions evolve over the course of a students’ work under my supervision, with more motivation and engagement needed towards the beginning as experiments are being planned and developed. In addition, I encourage collective feedback with peers. Often students and learners become so fixated on one aspect of a problem, that it is hard to see a more obvious solution. By engaging in dialogue with peers, though, these oversights can generally be mitigated quickly. This interaction also allows the student to view their own work from a different perspective, and hopefully gives them valuable feedback regarding problems they face.

 Teaching and Mentorship Experience

My experiences to date have included teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level, and recruiting and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students in a research group at UC Davis. As a graduate student at Purdue University, I led a laboratory section of an integrated circuit / MEMS fabrication course for 10 graduate students each semester for two semesters. As a complement to a lecture on fabrication techniques, this lab section went through the process of fabricating silicon-based PMOS transistors and single-cantilever MEMS devices. At UC Davis, I am currently an instructor for an introductory circuit analysis course for sophomore-level engineering students.

In addition, my role as Research Scientist and Laboratory Director working with Jerry Woodall has given me opportunities to work in advising undergraduate and graduate research projects. I have assisted in recruitment, project development, experimental setup, and data analysis. At each step, multiple opportunities for me to train and lead students have evolved. Personally, I believe there is significant value in composing a group of students from all levels—undergraduate to post-doctoral. By doing so, you are able to provide valuable research experience for undergraduates and valuable teaching and mentoring experience for senior members of the group. And, while undergraduate projects are inherently smaller in scope, they can still be forged into the broader scope of the research group in order to benefit everyone.

 Teaching Interests

My training is primarily in electrical and computer engineering, but with significant influence from materials science for purposes of understanding semiconductor deposition, thermodynamics, and material characterization. I am prepared to teach courses in the areas of circuit analysis, semiconductor physics and devices, materials science, microelectronic device fabrication, and energy conversion. Additionally, I am interested in developing graduate-level courses covering advanced topics in microelectronics with an emphasis on discussing recent research in relevant fields. Specifically, I would be interested in teaching an advanced course in energy conversion materials and devices that would cover solar cells, thermoelectric devices, and light emitting diodes. A team research project would be integrated in the course to allow students to survey the most recent developments in the field and present their findings to the class.

References

[1] S. Newstok, “A Plea for ‘Close Learning,’” Inside Higher Ed, 11-Jul-2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/07/11/essay-calls-alternative-massive-online-learning. [Accessed: 24-Mar-2014].