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Swanson School of Engineering Names Sam Dickerson as 2019 Outstanding Educator

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2019) — The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has presented Sam Dickerson, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Computer Engineering undergraduate program, with this year’s Outstanding Educator Award. This competitive award recognizes his excellence in teaching and innovative work in developing and improving the department’s undergraduate program. 

The award includes a $2,000 grant to further enhance the recipient’s teaching. 

Dr. Dickerson joined the Swanson School as assistant professor in 2015 after completing his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical and computer engineering at Pitt. In addition to teaching, Dr. Dickerson plays an influential role in the development and improvement of the ECE and EE curriculums, with enthusiasm that does not go unrecognized by his peers.

“Sam has modernized the way we teach our Senior Design Project course in a way that challenges the students and pushes them out of their comfort zones,” says Amro El-Jaroudi, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He has innovated in all aspects of the course: group formation, project selection, progress monitoring and project presentation. The impact of his hard work was immediately evident in the quality and depth of the designs and products created by the students.” 

Pushing students out of their comfort zone, while unreservedly providing the support they need, is a hallmark of Dr. Dickerson’s teaching style.

“Dr. Dickerson is one of those professors who is so passionate about what he teaches that it makes students more excited to learn the material,” says Abigail Wezelis, a recent graduate who took several of Dr. Dickerson’s courses and served as a teaching assistant for his Advanced Digital Design course. “He strives to find real-world examples of the concepts that he teaches and is not afraid to teach relevant cross-disciplinary material in his classes.”

“I’ve found that when students don’t see the big picture or understand how what they are learning fits in, then they quickly categorize it as being unimportant,” says Dr. Dickerson. “In order to combat this, through both lectures and laboratory exercises, I constantly give them examples where they can see how what they are learning is applied in industry.” 

Nominators noted that abundant examples of Dr. Dickerson’s method can be found throughout his courses. For example, in a recent course covering digital electronics, he showed students datasheet parameters, which serve as instruction manuals for electronic components, from real integrated circuit processes. According to Dickerson, these real-world examples showed students exactly why the material is relevant and how they, as future designers, will use what they are learning. 

In addition to teaching, Dr. Dickerson personally serves as an advisor and mentor to the over 300 students in the Computer Engineering undergraduate program. 

“When I asked him in 2017 to assume the leadership role as director of our undergraduate program in computer engineering, a major expansion to his faculty role, his response was amazing and refreshing, replying that he would be happy to serve in this role but regretful that it would mean a reduction by one in his teaching load each year,” says Alan George, professor and department chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He truly loves working with and helping students; it is his calling and passion.”

 “The most important thing in teaching is to care about your students,” continues Dr. Dickerson. “This principle helps me overcome many of the flaws I have as an educator and drives me to work hard at improving my teaching abilities. I care deeply about student success and am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that my students learn.”

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick