Pittsburgh, PA,
20:14 PM

How to Think Like a Student

ChemE Professor Lei Li is recognized with the 2023 James Pommersheim for Excellence in Chemical Engineering award

Lei Li, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, tries to think like a student to help them succeed. 

He spends extra time organizing classroom materials and finding unique ways for students to challenge themselves.

“Students come to college to learn how to learn,” Li said. “From this viewpoint, each class serves as an example to show students how to approach unknowns.” 

For his efforts and universal admiration from his students, Li was recognized with the department’s 2023 James Pommersheim for Excellence in Teaching in Chemical Engineering award. The Pommersheim Award was established by the department and James M. Pommersheim '70 to recognize departmental faculty in the areas of lecturing, teaching, research methodology, and research mentorship of students. Dr. Pommersheim, formerly Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University, received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in chemical engineering from Pitt.

“Professor Li has been an amazing department citizen, and someone whose teaching scores over the last years have been stratospheric,” said Steve R. Little, department chair. “He has demonstrated – time and time again – a willingness to be selflessly flexible for the betterment of our department team.”

Students have noted in their reviews that Li is “enthusiastic,” “warm,” “welcoming,” and as always having a “great attitude.” 

Outside the classroom, Li’s research focused on 2D material and ultrathin films, ranging from polymer nanocoatings, graphene surface, ionic liquid nano-lubricant to 3D-printed membrane for water treatment. In September 2023, Li received an award from the National Science Foundation to develop a new lubricant for hard disk drives. 

Li said he’s grateful for the support from both his colleagues and department that helped lead him to this award, however, it’s the students that are the most important influence in his journey as an endurator. When students leave his classroom, he wants them to remember him as one thing, “a good teacher.” 

“Honestly, ten years from now, if a student can remember anything I said in class, I will be a happy man,” Li said.