Relentlessly Paying it Forward
David V.P. Sanchez, CEE Assistant Professor, Honored with Two Top Engineering Education Awards
If you had told college-aged David Sanchez that he would be an engineering professor today, he would not have believed you.
“I almost left engineering a year and a half into undergrad because I couldn’t see the application. I couldn’t see how triple integrals were relevant to addressing the world’s immediate needs,” recalls Sanchez, who is assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering.
After deciding to continue in engineering, Sanchez thought changing the world involved visions of building engineering infrastructure and development projects in underserved communities across the world. “Even after graduate school I was so sure I was going into industry. But I’m a person of faith, and I prayed about it. I prayed for the opportunity to allow me to become the change I wished to see in the world. That opportunity turned out to be becoming a professor. And teaching is one of the most important things a professor will ever do.”
Sanchez’s faith and drive to serve others is the continual force behind what’s next for him, a path that has brought him to his professorship and his role as associate director of Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. That path has been a fruitful one, leading Sanchez to two honors: the Swanson School of Engineering’s Outstanding Educator Award and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) Award for Outstanding Teaching in Environmental Engineering & Science. Sanchez previously received the 2020 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
“Dave has had a tremendous impact on his department, school, university, and community. He has taught thousands of students in laboratory, capstone and design courses, independent research, community engagement and study abroad,” says Radisav Vidic, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “He leads by example, and his tireless commitment to personal and professional education of his students inspires a new standard of teaching excellence in Environmental Engineering, Sustainability and Science.”
“For me, it wasn’t ‘Find what you love.’ It was ‘Love what you do.’”
What drew Sanchez to the field of civil and environmental engineering was the opportunity to impact communities and improve lives—to pay it forward.
“For me, it was problem-solving for people. People and experiences have continued to affirm that this is a unique space and a profession where you can serve people in profound ways, especially civil and environmental engineering,” says Sanchez. “It creates lifelines for cities and communities. Think of water, electricity, and waste management: CEE continues to have a profound impact on the quality of life we have today.”
When his career evolved to include teaching, he extended that same passion for making an impact. His teaching incorporates best practices and pedagogical techniques, but it always starts from a place of empathy for the students and meeting them where they are. He finds ways to help students find their own motivation, making connections to the real world along the way.
“As an instructor, Dr. Sanchez is by far one of the best professors I have had the pleasure of taking. Dr. Sanchez emphasizes student well-being above all, and proves it through his actions,” says Yulia Yatsenko (BioE ‘22), who took two of Sanchez’s first-year engineering courses, in a letter of recommendation for the awards. “It is visible that he genuinely cares about every student’s learning and development…. His passion for teaching resonates from class to class, motivating us to learn and do more.”
In addition to teaching first year engineering courses, he teaches several courses including the Environmental Engineering Lab, Sustainability capstone, and a study abroad course to Micronesia all while managing his research in Sustainable Design Labs. In his time here he has taught thousands of students. He also advises and mentor students in his role as the undergraduate coordinator for Pitt’s Certificate in Sustainability, the graduate coordinator for the Master’s in Sustainable Engineering where he advises and mentors students.
He directs the John C. Mascaro Faculty Fellows program, the Global Engagement program, and student prototyping programs. active in the school’s Innovation, Product Design and Entrepreneurship program, leading the annual Makerspace and Mindsets Bootcamp.
If he had a magic wand, Sanchez says that he’d like to see the public discourse shift toward loving and serving our neighbors. As advisor for the student clubs Engineers for a Sustainable World and Pitt Hydroponics, which evolved out of his lab, Sanchez models and shares his passion for environmental engineering with his students.
“Students often think, ‘But I’m only one person. To that I respond, ‘Who are the 100 people you most influenced? Extrapolate that—let’s imagine these people, your family, your community. if you start there and affect them, and they affect 100 others, and so on, suddenly you’ve changed the country,” says Sanchez. “If you keep going, you’ve changed the world, with room to change the next generation.”