Following a trend that is gaining speed across the U.S. and the Illinois campus, MechSE has added a new specialty-faculty designation with a focus on teaching.
Three MechSE lecturers and one new hire have been designated as the department’s first “teaching faculty,” with three more open slots approved to be filled. As with all Illinois faculty, they are expected to conduct research, but it could be in learning, teaching, pedagogy, or curricula, and not necessarily in a disciplinary area.
“Institutions are generally more open to having specialized faculty as part of their ranks compared to where things were 10 years ago,” said Department Head Tony Jacobi. “Some of it is motivated by wanting to really engage students in learning activities that go far beyond where we were in the past, with active learning, and with more open-ended laboratories and design problems.
“And part of it is in wanting to meet our teaching mission in a more flexible way, perhaps a more modern way than we’ve done in the past—in a way that allows students to seek a learning pathway that best suits them.”
MechSE’s inaugural teaching faculty members are
• Teaching Assistant Professor Bruce Flachsbart (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999), who has research interests in micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) device design and fabrication. He joined the department in 1999.
• Teaching Assistant Professor Jiajun He (PhD, Stanford University, 2016), who has research interests in porous materials for clean energy applications; carbon capture; and fluid phase and interfacial behaviors associated with oil and gas production. He
joined the department in 2019.
• Teaching Assistant Professor Blake Johnson (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012), who has research interests in experimental fluid mechanics, optical diagnostics, and pedagogy. He joined the department in 2014.
• Teaching Associate Professor Leon Liebenberg (PhD, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, 2003), who has research interests in pedagogies of engagement and emotional learning strategies; energy, materials, and the environment; and human-centered design. He joined the department in 2017.
Having specialized teaching faculty will allow some tenure system faculty to shift to more of the seminar and special topics style courses at higher levels, leveraging their research enterprise.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Jacobi said. “These changes will strengthen our department in so many ways and help us meet our educational mission in a more efficient, engaging way. At the same time, they will leverage our research
activities so that we’re able to do more."