Many Happy Returns: Four professors recount their time spent on sabbatical

February 2, 2018

Every six contract years, members of the faculty are able to petition for a half year sabbatical, which affords opportunities for research or personal driven work. Returning at the beginning of this Spring Semester are doctors Jeffrey Hieb, Stuart Williams, John Usher, and Jacek Zurada. Each professor had a different use for their time, from pedagogical research with an eye forward, to taking a brief rest to reset and get reinvigorated as educators.

Active Learning

Jeff Hieb, Ph.D.A member of the faculty in the Engineering Fundamentals Department, Dr. Hieb spent his time as the first TILL Faculty Fellow with the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning. There he focused on active learning and active learning classroom environments, a pedagogical method that engages students, challenging them to participate in lessons and class activities.

“I spent my time learning more about what others schools are doing with ALCs by talking with faculty and professional development staff, as well as visiting some schools that have large active learning classroom buildings,” he says. He adds, “I am convinced that this not a fad. The emergence of ALCs is leading to an ongoing exploration of the intersection of Space, Pedagogy, and Technology on learning.”

With the imminent opening of the Belknap Academic Classroom Building in the Fall term of 2018, which will include more than 20 active learning classrooms, he hopes to employ his research as soon as possible.

Looking to stay ahead of the curve, Hieb explains, “Educause is predicting that ALCs will be mainstream on college campuses sometime between 2020 and 2022.”

Colloids Distilled

Stuart WilliamsFormer North Carolina native Dr. Stuart Williams, used his leave to visit colleagues and family in Raleigh, NC, where he was hosted by Professor Orlin Velev, a member of the Department of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University. Dr. Velev is a world leader on colloid science, a field of study that attends to the fluid like materials that feature a variety of physical properties. With his own research exploring colloids, Stuart worked with Velev to expand his knowledge.

“Never stop learning, never be afraid to learn new techniques and methods. I learned a lot, but there is still a lot I need to learn. With my sabbatical I was able to make significant strides into a new area – I will be able to apply what I learned towards new research activities in my lab at the University of Louisville,” says Williams.

During his work, Williams examined bourbon samples sent from Brown Forman, to study the colloids in the spirit. The colloids serve to color the body of the liquid, giving it a visible haze, which to date has yet to be quantified or measured.

Williams explains, “We evaporated small microdroplets of various bourbons and looked at the dried residue under a microscope – we found that the dried pattern is unique to each bourbon we tested. We may use this technique as a simple method (i.e. small sample size, portable analysis) of analyzing bourbon, including identifying counterfeits – this work is ongoing and we’ll present our results later in the year.”

Hitting Reset

headshot of Associate Dean John UsherFor Dr. John Usher, the experience of the sabbatical was a necessary step in refreshment. Coming off of years served as an administrator, most recently as Interim Dean of the Speed School, Usher embarked on his leave, his first in thirty years, to not only reset his prerogative to focus on teaching and away from his administrative details, but to reconnect with his research and his family.

Usher says, “After five years of hectic work in the dean’s office as Associate Dean and Acting Dean, during a very difficult period in the history of the university, I definitely needed the time off to prepare to re-enter the classroom and restart some of my research work.”

He employed his sabbatical to reconnect with his department, update lectures, and to apply for the permanent dean position, while continuing his work on the ABET Self-Study report for the Industrial Engineering department. During his time, he traveled, and had one-on-one meetings with colleagues and grad students in his department, to help re-engage in that work environment. More than anything, he caught up with family.

He says, “While those activities were productive, what I will remember most is the extra time I was able to spend with Lynn, my four kids, and my 1-yr old grandson,” says Usher. 

Study Abroad

Jacek Zurada, DirectorSpending his time on the road, Dr. Jacek Zurada traveled far and wide. Not only did he attend two research conferences and delivered technical keynote addresses, but he visited Purdue University and several Polish technical universities, including the Warsaw University of Technology, and his Alma Mater, the Gdansk University of Technology. His objective was to initiate new collaborations with colleagues-experts researchers in the field of computational intelligence.

“Both at Purdue and in Poland I was impressed by the immense progress that is being made in the field of ECE. I was impressed with research in microelectronics, communications and computing, especially when augmented with artificial intelligence. This research has brought disruptive changes in ways people work, interact, communicate and spend their free time,” says Zurada.

With his travels came connections, networking opportunities that gave him insights into competitive and dynamic research possibilities. Not only was he able to build new partnerships with professional contemporaneous to his own work, but he was able to see how other universities presented their curriculum.

He explains, “The reach of globalization is such that our graduates compete in a global world.”