Self Taught: ME Professor Brian Self Wins CSU-Wide Award for His Active Learning Teaching Methods

Brian Self was honored for his help improving student success.

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 be presented with the Wang Family Excellence Award, winning the CSU’s lone Outstanding Faculty Teaching honor.

The $20,000 award recognizes faculty members who show extraordinary commitment and dedication and 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 been a member of the faculty at Cal Poly since 2006, after serving seven years as a professor with the United States Air Force Academy. Prior to his education career, he worked as a biomedical research engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base.

In his nominating letter, President Jeffrey D. Armstrong noted Self’s dedication to active learning strategies, which involve students more directly in the learning process. Through that, Self 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.

His 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 campus-wide Learn by Doing 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 2-day workshop for all new faculty in the College of Engineering, and he offers teaching workshops for the CSU-wide Symposium on Teaching and Learning.

“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 and it is great to see him being recognized by the CSU.”

Self has also authored or co-authored over 70 peer-reviewed articles on engineering education. And 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.

Wang is the founder, president and CEO of Pantronix Corporation, a high-tech company in Silicon Valley that serves the medical, aerospace, semiconductor, defense, energy, and telecommunication industries.

The Cal Poly College of Engineering understands there has been an enormous amount of turmoil and transition due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue offering support to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, we also continue providing critical updates as well as college highlights. Ours is a college full of creative and bright engineers and staff. For more information on COVID-19 visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For more information on how Cal Poly is responding to COVID-19, visit the Cal Poly Coronavirus website Coronavirus website.

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