Graduate School awards student for outstanding teaching

Written by
Scott Lyon
April 19, 2019


At a reception held last night at Prospect House, the Dean of the Graduate School honored six graduate students from across the University who made outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching. The awardees included Mattias Fitzpatrick, a sixth-year graduate student in electrical engineering.

Fitzpatrick played an instrumental role in designing portions of a course for first-year undergraduates, "Electricity and Photonics," taught in the fall 2019 semester by professor James Sturm. The course is part of a new sequence, offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Science, that reframes traditional math and physics with a greater emphasis on problem-solving in the context of modern engineering challenges. The courses are aimed at students who come to Princeton with solid high school preparation, but who have not taken Advanced Placement physics in high school or placed into multivariable calculus as first-years.

"Our grand goal was to make engineering exciting, and teach in a way that was engaging and useful," Fitzpatrick said. He believes the course was a success by several measures, including a nearly perfect retention of students who have committed to engineering and an overall sense of community and enthusiasm within the class.

In addition to designing the experiments in advance, Fitzpatrick worked as an assistant in instruction during the semester. He likened teaching to a kind of game, first identifying students' knowledge levels and then moving them strategically through a series of problems toward a defined goal.

A McGraw Teaching Fellow, Fitzpatrick will present his dissertation on May 3 under the advising of professor Andrew Houck. In the fall semester he will begin work as a postdoctoral researcher with professor Nathalie de Leon.