May 22, 2008

Professor Receives National Award from Engineering Organization


Photo: Ali Porbaha
Ali Porbaha

A Sacramento State faculty member received the highest teaching award given by one of the largest national engineering societies May 13.

Ali Porbaha, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, was the sole recipient of the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education (ExCEEd) New Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The award is presented annually for innovations and enthusiasm in teaching engineering.

“Faculty members usually have a lot of technical content to present, but sometimes we struggle in how to best deliver it to our students,” Porbaha says. “Students learn in many different ways, and as teachers, we always have to be sensitive to their different learning styles and adjust our approach to keep students engaged and actively learning.”

For instance, Porbaha says, some engineering students learn best visually and by handling physical models, others verbally.

“I watch carefully for patterns in student learning. If some students tend to excel as visual learners, but I don’t give them enough visuals, it’s not their fault if they don’t understand. It’s my fault,” he says.

One of his teaching techniques, and one that scores high on his student evaluations, is what he calls the icebreaker.

“Civil engineering is packed with technical information. There are so many equations and concepts and so many details for a student to absorb in one lecture. After about 20 minutes, I change the atmosphere of the class by showing pictures or short video clips that have little to do with the course. It might be a current world event or something funny, like, ‘can animals predict earthquakes?’” he says. “It’s a way to help students relax their minds and restore energy to continue learning.”

Porbaha has been teaching for only five years. Prior to that, he worked in industry in the U.S. and in Japan as a registered engineer with a specialty in geotechnical and earthquake engineering. “I enjoyed working in industry and I enjoy teaching even more. They complement each other,” he says.

Porbaha will receive his award at the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, Penn., June 24.

This is one of many recent awards Porbaha has received. In April, he received the 2008 ASCE Faculty Advisor of the Year award for Region 9 and also the University’s Outstanding Faculty Advisor award. In 2007, he received the University President’s Award for Research and Creative Activity.

ASCE is America's oldest national engineering society. It was founded in 1852 and represents more than 133,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide.

For more information on the ExCEEd award, contact Dr. Ali Porbaha at (916) 278-6120. For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.