Brian Self, a Cal Poly mechanical engineering professor who has championed active learning techniques, is one of four faculty members in the California State University system to earn the Wang Family Excellence Award, taking the CSU’s sole Outstanding Faculty Teaching honor.
The $20,000 award recognizes faculty members who show extraordinary commitment and dedication and who distinguish themselves by exemplary contributions and achievements. The distinction caps off a long list of accolades Self has received during his two decades as an educator.
“Dr. Self continues to impress his peers with successful teaching methods that maximize student performance while also increasing their interest, helping to prepare them for future careers,” said Amy S. Fleischer, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering. “His leadership is one of the reasons Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering Department ranks among the nation’s best.”
Self has taught at Cal Poly since 2006, after serving seven years as a professor with the U.S. Air Force Academy. Prior to his education career, he worked as a biomedical research engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
In his nominating letter, Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong noted Self’s dedication to active learning strategies, which involve students more directly in the learning process. Through those strategies, Self has helped improve the success rates of students taking the challenging Engineering Dynamics course.
The course, which entails analysis of motions of particles and rigid bodies encountered in engineering, requires mathematical modeling and problem solving. Self’s techniques focused on improving conceptual understanding of the topic.
“Subsequently, the failure rate in the course has steadily decreased,” Armstrong wrote, noting that is much lower than the national norm.
In 2016, Self was recognized for his dynamics work with the campuswide Learn by Doing Scholar Award. And he has received three National Science Foundation grants for the work. He has also shared his method as course coordinator for the dynamics course, which is taught by up to 12 different instructors.
Sharing teaching methods has been a tenet of Self’s tenure at Cal Poly. Each fall, he presents a two-day workshop for all new faculty in the College of Engineering, and he offers teaching workshops for the annual CSU-wide Symposium on Teaching and Learning, which champions the advancement of educator and student success.
“This is a wonderful and very well-deserved achievement for Brian,” said Mary Pedersen, Cal Poly’s interim provost. “His excellent teaching and mentorship for both students and his fellow faculty members, along with the tremendous service he provides to our university, are well known on Cal Poly’s campus. It is great to see him being recognized by the CSU.”
Self has also authored or co-authored more than 70 peer-reviewed articles on engineering education. Several of his papers have won Best Paper and Best Presentation awards.
The Wang Family Excellence Award was originally established in 1998 when then-CSU Trustee Stanley Wang provided $1 million to recognize remarkable contributions of the CSU’s faculty and staff over a 10-year period. Trustee Emeritus Wang reinstated the award beginning in 2015 and, in January 2017, endowed the program with a $2.5 million gift.
Wang is the founder, president and CEO of Pantronix Corporation, a Bay Area-based high-tech company that serves the medical, aerospace, semiconductor, defense, energy and telecommunication industries.