Allison Godwin, holder of the Dr. G. Stephen Irwin ’67, ’68 Professorship in Engineering Education Research, works with students.

Irwin gift endows unique engineering education professorship

A newly endowed professorship at Cornell, made possible with a multimillion-dollar gift from George Stephen Irwin ’67, M.Eng. ’68, is dedicated to engineering education research.

The gift establishes the Dr. G. Stephen Irwin ’67, ’68 Professorship in Engineering Education Research in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The endowment is part of a broader initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining faculty members who research how engineering students best learn and retain technical subjects, form identities as engineers and enter engineering career fields.

G. Stephen Irwin

Allison Godwin, associate professor in the Smith School, will be the first to hold the professorship. Godwin joined the faculty in 2023 as an associate professor specializing in engineering identity development, practices for inclusive education and engineering workforce development. She was the first professor hired as part of the initiative to use discipline-based education research to enhance the learning experience of aspiring engineers.

“I’m grateful Dr. Irwin shares our vision for how engineering education can be transformed using scientific research principles,” said Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. “This professorship places a spotlight on our commitment to support and celebrate members of our faculty committed to teaching excellence. Its impacts in elevating the quality of the engineering student experience will be profound and lasting.”

The professorship builds on existing Cornell Engineering programs focused on engineering education, such as the James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute. Irwin, an orthopedic surgeon and entrepreneur, said he was inspired to establish a professorship that would complement the institute’s work in supporting faculty in the classroom through the development of instructional tools, methods and scholarship.

“Few faculty fresh from their Ph.D. dissertation come with specific skills in teaching, and tenured faculty can have great knowledge yet lack how to pass that along to their students,” said Irwin, who studied chemical engineering at Cornell. “This new professorship will add another dimension to workforce development and support a culture of teaching science and engineering in a way that is exciting and evidence-based.”

As part of its focus on teaching excellence, Cornell Engineering is recruiting faculty members who specialize in discipline-based education research. Joining Godwin among this year’s new faculty is Alexandra Werth, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering whose primary research focuses on assessment tools to evaluate and enhance teamwork skills in engineering labs and other learning environments. The college is actively hiring a third tenure-track professor focused on engineering education in both chemical and systems engineering.

“The support of Dr. Irwin will have significant impact in shaping the future of chemical and biomolecular engineering education at Cornell,” said Susan Daniel, the William C. Hooey Director of the Smith School. “This professorship will ensure our faculty continue to have the intellectual tools they need to foster deep engagement from students of all backgrounds, and ultimately prepare them to thrive in their future engineering careers.”

Syl Kacapyr is associate director of marketing and communications for Cornell Engineering.

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Rebecca Valli