Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering John DeWolf was named one of four 2006-07 University of Connecticut Teaching Fellows. The award was formally announced at a gala banquet in April 2006. Up to four Teaching Fellows are honored each year by the University’s Institute for Teaching and Learning, and only four Engineering faculty have previously received the award since its inception in 1993.
Dr. DeWolf was delighted by the University laurel, which honored his novel teaching approach, contributions as a textbook co-author and support to students as a faculty advisor. As a teacher, he said, “I strive to make my students enthusiastic about structural engineering. I know that if I can get them to think critically about structures, they will focus on what is most important, and through this they will feel how structures behave.”
Among the most innovative courses offered students under the First Year Experience (FYE) program is one developed by Dr. DeWolf, which centers on gothic cathedrals. As design subjects, gothic cathedrals hold great complexity and mystery, making them well suited to the FYE format. Dr. DeWolf comments that gothic cathedrals were built prior to the two key components of modern structural engineering: calculus and engineering mechanics. He asserts, “The early cathedrals were magnificent structural engineering accomplishments. The cathedral builders sought to have large open spaces, requiring both large spans and high ceilings with lots of windows for light. They required great insight, and it is fun to introduce students to engineering ideas using these examples.”
“If I can help my students become enthusiastic about what they do,” he says, “I can help them become engineers. Through real examples, I encourage students to explore why the engineer followed specific paths, I encourage them to explore how construction influences the actual design and I encourage them to learn how to critically evaluate designs. It is in the evaluation of alternatives that one fully appreciates the art of engineering, and it is at this level that one truly finds design exciting.”
Writing is another novel element Dr. DeWolf has introduced in his civil engineering classes. In his Steel Design course, he explains, “I have been using written assignments as a way to further develop concepts related to structural design.” The idea behind this approach, he says, is to introduce students to real structures, help them examine how structures behave, and use short back-of-theenvelop calculations to focus on key elements in the structural design.
Dr. DeWolf is co-author, with E.R. Johnston and the late F.P. Beer, on the widely acclaimed Mechanics of Materials (3rd and 4th editions), which is used by engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin and Roger Williams University
Dr. DeWolf was previously presented the C.R. Klewin Award for Excellence in Teaching (1995, 1999, 2000 and 2004) and the 2005 Educator Career Teaching Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction. The latter award is presented to just one collegiate educator yearly and entails a $20,000 grant over two years. It is meant to bring national recognition and confer seed money for establishment of new instructional programs in steel education. He is a member of the State of Connecticut Board of Examiners for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors and the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.