McCormick Professors Recognized with 2012 Charles Deering McCormick Awards

Northwestern University has recognized two McCormick faculty members, Bruce Earl Ankenman and John Torkelson, for teaching excellence with 2012 Charles Deering McCormick Awards.

The award recognizes individual faculty members who have consistently demonstrated outstanding performance in classroom teaching or who have developed significant innovations that have also influenced the methods and teaching effectiveness of other faculty. Recipients are selected by the University Teaching Awards Committee.

Each holder of a McCormick appointment is designated a fellow of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence.

Bruce Earl Ankenman

Ankenman, associate professor in industrial engineering and management sciences, is a founding faculty member and current co-director of the Segal Design Institute and the director of the Master of Engineering Management Program. He came to Northwestern in 1996 after a career as an electrical engineer. His decision to leave industry was borne of a desire to “help engineers to be more efficient and more effective as decision makers.” He teaches statistical methods by engaging his students in realistic engineering experiences. With National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, he co-developed the Quality Engineering Laboratory to provide students with hands-on experience in data collection, statistical analysis and developing effective techniques for experiment organization. He also is deeply committed to building engineering and design curricula that will attract students and teach them to effectively solve real-world engineering problems. For example, students in his highly acclaimed freshman design course, Engineering Design and Communication, have partnered with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in designing devices to assist disabled individuals accomplish simple tasks such as opening a jar, cutting vegetables, or playing the piano. He believes that this focus on providing real-life experience is one of the key reasons why so many freshmen are attracted to the engineering program at McCormick. His students attest to his ability to explain principles using real-world scenarios and his emphasis on the need for balance between “statistical significance and practical importance.” Ankenman received his PhD in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

John Torkelson

Torkelson, Walter P. Murphy Professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering and in the department of materials science and engineering since 2002, embodies the hallmark of great teaching. He demands much from students but also rewards their efforts in his chemical engineering courses. A colleague observed that students willingly accept the challenges in his courses because they know he will work harder than any of his students on their behalf, even starting his day at 3 a.m. and, at students’ requests, hosting office hours on the weekends. Comments in his course evaluations attest to the combination of rigor and reward: “Torkelson is amazing! This class is hard and a ton of work, but you will never learn as much in 50 minutes as you do with Torkelson.” In his classes, he uses innovative approaches infused with humor to communicate complex and difficult ideas, such as using Silly Putty to demonstrate non-Newtonian behavior and his now famous “Polymer dance” to explain concepts in polymer physics. For more some three decades, he has averaged a CTEC score of 5.6 (out of 6), and historical files show that student praise for his teaching was as strong in the 1980s and 1990s as it is today. Torkelson also is a dedicated and effective mentor and student adviser who spends additional time with his students to guide them through not only curriculum requirements for a degree but also with career and life choices. He is the current chair of the division of polymer physics in the American Physical Society and has founded a start-up company based on research conducted by his University lab. He received his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He has been named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll and has received the Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009 and the McCormick School of Engineering Teacher of the Year Award in 2008.

-- University Relations