Hadas Ritz, senior lecturer in Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and faculty teaching fellow in the James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute, won the 2021 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) National Outstanding Teaching Award.
The award provides national recognition to an engineering educator for excellence in outstanding classroom performance, contributions to the scholarship of teaching, and participation in the ASEE section meetings and local activities. Ritz was also recognized with the 2020 Outstanding Teaching Award from the ASEE St. Lawrence section.
Ritz is known widely across the Sibley School and the College of Engineering for her exceptional teaching abilities and dedication to her students, according to David Erickson, the S.C. Thomas Sze Director of the Sibley School.
“Hadas is truly an exceptional engineering instructor,” Erickson said. “Her dedication to both her students and their educational success is reflected year after year in student testimonials. We're all extremely excited that she is receiving the national recognition she deserves."
Ritz co-led the Sibley School in an Active Learning Initiative proposal to the university, where she helped to create a plan to redesign required junior level curriculum - the overall goal being to implement research-based active learning strategies and create sustainable improvements to undergraduate education. Active learning is an approach to teaching that emphasizes student involvement and engagement. In the Sibley School, this means combining the best elements of project teams and coursework through case-based learning.
“A 50- or 75-minute lecture is a lot of new material coming at once,” Ritz said. “There’s a limit to how much humans can commit to long-term memory and actually apply and understand. We try to break the material into smaller chunks and have students work with it immediately to help them understand how each new piece fits into what they already know and build upon that.”
Over the past year, the Active Learning Initiative also had the unexpected and crucially important benefit of aiding with the Sibley School’s transition to virtual instruction necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative helped address one of the key concerns for faculty across the country – keeping students engaged on Zoom.
In various active learning courses, Ritz worked with faculty and a team of teaching support specialists to offer engaging curriculum online – using Zoom breakout rooms, group projects and competitions, at-home technical kits, and simulation software to keep students interested in the course content.
As a faculty fellow in the McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute, she mentors other faculty members and co-leads workshops for new faculty.
“I really enjoy working with new faculty to help get them acquainted with Cornell but also to engage in discussions about best-practices in terms of teaching,” Ritz said. “It’s nice to be a point of contact so those new faculty know if a question comes up about teaching, they have someone to help find answers and support.”