April 6-12, 2001
Back Issues
Awards celebrate dedicated teaching at the University
U.Va. bestows annual Thomas Jefferson medals
Well-bred mice may hold clues to cause of Crohn's disease

Teachers inspire students to transform their lives

Athletics task force report recommends restructuring sports program, finances and academic support
In Memoriam
Hot Links -- Department of Taxation
Graduate programs ranked
Best-selling Baldacci to speak at U.Va.
Architecture School sets up exchange program with German university
University seeking associate director for study abroad
Lectures to focus on nationalism and globalization

Teachers inspire students to transform their lives

Susan Burns Susan E. Burns

In her first four years here, assistant professor of civil engineering Susan E. Burns has racked up a number of honors — from the National Science Foundation to a David A. Harrison III Award for Undergraduate Advising. Now she can add one more to her list: Alumni Board of Trustees Teaching Award. And all this for teaching about dirt. Soil mechanics to be precise.

“I feel so fortunate to teach and research a subject I love so deeply,” Burns said. “When students leave my class, I hope they have an understanding of the dynamic nature of engineering and the ability to enjoy analyzing and solving problems, as well as an appreciation for the men and women who have worked to create our discipline.”

Judging from the consistently high ratings she receives from students as well as peers, Burns’ contributions are well received. One student wrote an ode to honor this “best professor.” And James Smith, the Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professor, noted that after watching several of her lectures and presentations, he now employs her teaching model of “concept, theory, and ‘change-up” in his own courses.

After reading a Teaching Resource Center article that said the attention span of adult listeners is about 20 minutes, Burns began breaking up her 75-minute courses with a “question of the day” relevant to students’ lives. “The response has been amazing,” she said. “It completely reawakens and re-energizes the students. It also makes them more willing to ask questions or to stop me during a lecture if something is unclear.”

It’s what makes her classroom “different from the rest,” wrote student Martin Quinn. “Often times we discussed current events. Other times, Prof. Burns would solicit information from us. … It gave us a chance to rest our pencils and relax our minds, and get to know Prof. Burns personally, and I am thankful for that.”

Another teaching philosophy Burns believes strongly in is accessibility. "Interaction outside of the classroom is as important as interaction in class,” she said. “I can think of few things in life that are more wonderful than the spark of understanding on students’ faces after they have answered their own questions while talking with me.”

— Rebecca Arrington


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