Honoring the Excellence of Four Stevens Faculty Members

12/6/2013

The work of Stevens faculty members nurtures and inspires future engineers, scientists and technology professionals, bringing more women and men to these vitally important fields. Several of these professors were honored this past fall for their excellence and accomplishments.

And history was made as the Stevens Alumni Association’s Outstanding Teacher Award was given to a female faculty member.

Dr. Sophia Hassiotis, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, received the Stevens Alumni Association’s Outstanding Teacher Award, becoming the first woman to receive the honor in the program’s history.

“Accomplishments of this small but impressive group of women are notable,’’ said Susan Metz, director of Diversity and Inclusion at Stevens.

Several other faculty members were recognized for their accomplishments in academics and research during the ceremony.

Dr. Yingying “Jennifer’’ Chen, associate professor in the Department of  Electrical and Computer Engineering, received the Jess Davis Memorial Award for Research Excellence; Dr. Roberta Cohen, industry professor in the School of Systems and Enterprises, received the 2013 Provost’s Award for Excellence in On-Line Teaching; and Dr. Svetlana Sukhishvili, professor of chemistry in the Department of Chemical Biology & Biomedical Engineering, received the 2013 Provost’s Award for Academic Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Development. A full list of awardees is available on the Stevens website.

The SAA award, given for excellence in teaching, began in 1978. The recipient is voted upon by alumni from the five most recent undergraduate classes. Candidates are judged according to the degree of inspiration, the effectiveness of motivation and preparation for the future and professional ethics instilled in students.

Outstanding Teacher Award

Hassiotis welcomes a visitor into her office with a gregarious laugh. Her office, recently painted, is filled with photos of former students. Because of the recent paint job, she hasn’t hung up the Outstanding Teacher Award.

“I’m looking for the right spot,’’ she confessed.

She repeated the word “surprised’’ when asked how she felt about receiving the honor.

“I kept thinking they made a mistake and that they would be taking it back,’’ she said just before erupting into a big smile.

This year marks her 20th anniversary as a college professor and she said she likes to think she has learned a lot from her students over the decades.

“I think I was a bit stricter in the beginning years, but the students taught me to bring it down a bit. I am a bit looser now than I was years ago,’’ she said. “With teaching, you’re always asking yourself, ‘Am I getting through to them? Am I as energetic about my subject as I could be?’ My job as a teacher is to make them fall in love with the subject. I love the subject and I want them to see the beauty in it.’’

Hassiotis mentions that she hopes to inspire future engineers to realize their potential. “I want them to be as ready as they can be for the future,’’ she said.

Passing ideas from industry to students

Cohen, recognized for online teaching, started out in academia more than 30 years ago as a sociology professor at Princeton University. She was recruited by Bell Labs, where she spent more than 20 years in various systems and architecture roles, the last 10 years in management positions supervising systems engineers and architects. After retiring from Bell, she returned to teaching and has been at Stevens for about five years, currently teaching graduate-level software engineering courses both online and on campus. It’s a job she loves.

Cohen learned early in her career to keep a journal of problems she’s encountered and how she solved them. It’s an exercise she has passed on to her students as a course requirement.

Writing down the problem and the eventual solution forces students to reflect on their day, she said, and helps them to recognize patterns. At the end of the semester, she reads the logs.

“I find them fascinating to read,’’ she said. “I have many working people as students and this really helps them to take a moment and reflect on things that were discussed in class and also to think about how a problem was solved. I love to see how something I said in class may have helped them.’’

Top entrepreneur

Sukhishvili’s entrepreneurship award was given for her work with ultrathin coatings on medical implants. This coating technology helps minimize the risk of infection on existing medical implants. She notes that about 1 to 4 percent of hip and knee implants, more than 15 percent of implants associated with orthopedic trauma and a much larger percentage of urinary devices fail due to infection, causing enormous consequences to patient well-being and cost to society.

Her work involves multilayer polymer films that expand their potential, which may lead to the next step in prosthetic coatings: multilayer films with therapeutics in the films that are time-released. Picture a hip implant or a urinary catheter with a film coating that releases an antibiotic and a growth factor at timed intervals, when needed, to reduce pain and prevent infections.

“We are an aging population and the challenge is to create smarter defenses against bacteria,’’ she said.  “It gives me great joy to know that I may be making a difference in someone’s life. To be able to create less suffering in the world, well, that’s wonderful.’’

Research award for phone app design

Chen’s research award was given in response to her work in designing an anti-distraction cell phone app that prevents a driver from taking calls in a moving car. The app uses software that sends an audio signal through the car’s stereo system. The signal is high frequency and cuts through car noise. The app is a collaboration of work between teams at Stevens and Rutgers University.

“The app would promote better behavior while driving,’’ she said, adding that she envisions several uses by the public. “Not only parents of teenagers, but insurance companies may be interested in the technology, especially if an insured driver has already been ticketed for driving while texting. And, of course, there are people who just need to monitor themselves while driving.’’

The technology is an example of a real-life problem solver, Chen said. “This can make a difference. It can save lives because we are reducing driver-distraction, and possibly preventing crashes.’’

The Stevens administration is proud to call these inspiring teachers part of the faculty.

“These faculty members bring honor and distinction to Stevens.  Their accomplishments in teaching, research, and service are an inspiration for their colleagues--male and female--and for our students, as well as all those who aspire to excellence at Stevens,’’ said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin.