Professor Wins National New Faculty Award for Dynamic Teaching


DETROIT — If there’s one thing Shawn McElmurry, Wayne State University professor of civil and environmental engineering, brings with him into the classroom, it’s enthusiasm. Since joining WSU in 2008, his priority has been to provide a dynamic and engaging learning environment for his students.

“I am very focused on research, but I want students to know that teaching is my first priority,” McElmurry said. “I aim to increase student learning as well as provide them with a more complete understanding of what it means to be at a research-intensive university. The integration of research into the curriculum provides students with the most cutting-edge knowledge and helps engage them with issues relevant to their local community.”

McElmurry, whose research focuses on the fate and transport of pollutants in surface water systems and developing new methods and techniques for the detection, quantification and treatment of organic and inorganic constituents, engages his students through as many pedagogical tools as possible—group work, in-class exercises, and out-of-class tours and experiences—to increase learning.

“I routinely arrange for tours of major infrastructure within the city—wastewater treatment plant, drinking water treatment plant—and have even been known to pull the entire class outside when it is raining to witness some of the concepts learned in class. I know it is always a highlight of the semester when I have students standing in the rain and ask them if they can smell the soil.”

McElmurry was recently selected by the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Committee on Faculty Development as a recipient of the 2013 ExCEEd New Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award. The prestigious award honors new faculty members for their outstanding teaching records, contributions to the academic and surrounding communities, and proven commitment to education.

McElmurry was nominated by colleague Peter Savolainen, who coordinated the efforts of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students in preparing letters of support. Savolainen notes, “Shawn has made indelible impacts on those students who have been fortunate enough to have taken his courses. He has an uncanny ability to both engage and challenge his students. These traits, coupled with his use of pedagogical innovations and unparalleled dedication to his craft, have become a hallmark of our academic program.”

“Professor McElmurry has a unique way in delivering his lectures. He is very keen on theory but incorporates real-life application problems,” said Maya Zein, a doctorate student. “He is always looking for more ways to expand his knowledge and integrate many disciplines for a greater effort in preserving and sustaining the environment. He is a wonderful teacher, mentor and individual.”

McElmurry, who ice climbs and runs 50-mile races in his spare time, is known to test his students outside the classroom as well. His standing challenge to his students: Run—and beat him—in the Detroit Marathon Relay, and he’ll pay the entry fees. So far, McElmurry still has bragging rights.

McElmurry will be presented with the ExCEEd award during the Civil Engineering Division Banquet, held June 25 at the ASCE annual conference in Atlanta.