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Dartmouth Engineering Professor Vicki May Named NH Professor of the Year

Nov 14, 2013   |   by Alex Arcone

Professor Vicki May

Professor Vicki May

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have jointly named Dartmouth Associate Professor of Engineering Vicki May as the 2013 New Hampshire Professor of the Year. CASE and the Carnegie Foundation give the award annually to undergraduate teachers “who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students.”

May’s hands-on approach to teaching, combined with a relaxed demeanor, draws many students to her classes, which include Integrated Design, Solid Mechanics, Intermediate Solid Mechanics, and Structural Analysis. “I don’t like to listen to me talk for 50 minutes, so I’m sure they don’t like it either,” May says. Instead, she likes to get students working on real projects. “There’s lots of theory and that’s important, but being able to tie everything together by actually building something gets students excited and helps them learn, because they see a real context to all the math and science they’ve been doing.”

"She cares and puts in a lot of effort. Class wasn't one boring lecture after another, but was a genuine learning experience that everyone enjoyed." —Christian Ortiz '11 Th '11

"Professor May skillfully guided us toward an achievable end result, respecting our design choices while offering us feedback and practical advice. Her 'can-do' attitude encouraged us to dream big, and her pragmatism enabled us to actually get the project done. She really has faith in her students’ abilities and her high expectations encourage students to strive to reach their full potential." —Anne Ressler '14

“Professor May is one of those rare professors who most of all wants students to learn as much as possible and to enjoy the process,” says BE student Noam Rosenthal ’13. “What really helped me was Vicki's lecture method. She goes through complete examples in class and allows time for students to try examples on their own. By the time I started the problem set, I was very comfortable with the material.”

“Vicki's teaching is one of the best examples of tying the fundamentals to real-world application,” says Joseph Helble, Dean and Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth. “In her courses, students learn the underlying theory and then spend a large part of their time applying this knowledge to an open-ended design problem that challenges them intellectually and creatively. Her classes are in high demand, and the engaged learning that takes place in her classroom is the reason why.”

May earned her Ph.D. in civil and structural engineering from Stanford University and began teaching engineering at Dartmouth in 2006. “I always had teaching in the back of my head,” May says. She first taught in the classroom at Stanford, as a teaching assistant. “I really liked the work,” May recalls. “Now teaching is my focus, my passion.”

May’s passion for teaching extends beyond the college classroom. For years, she has pushed for engineering to play a bigger role in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms and was chief organizer of the Design It. Build It. summer engineering workshop at Dartmouth which debuted this year. The two-week workshop attracted high school students from all over New England who came to design and build everything from gliders and guitars to robots. “You’re never too young to learn about engineering,” May says.

Vicki May helps a student

The US Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country and is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

All undergraduate teachers in the United States, of any academic rank at any type of undergraduate institution, are eligible for the award. Entries are judged by top US educators and other active participants in education.

CASE launched the awards program in 1981.

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