The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Shannon Roberts Receives Lilly Teaching Fellowship

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts

Assistant Professor Shannon Roberts of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department is one of eight campus faculty members chosen by the UMass Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) as recipients of 2021-22 Lilly Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. Through her Lilly Fellowship, Roberts proposes to redesign her course – MIE 273/CEE 260, Probability and Statistics for Engineers – to include a semester-long project that allows students to apply theoretical mathematical principles to actual engineering design problems.

Participation in the year-long Lilly Fellowship Program involves work over the summer, eight cohort meetings and assignments during the academic year, a new course design (or significant redesign of an existing course), and sharing the accrued knowledge after the fellowship ends. Each fellow receives $6,000 in summer salary and a $3,750 transfer to the fellow after successful completion of the year-long fellowship.

According to the CTL, “This [Lilly Fellowship] is a significant achievement given the high volume and quality of nominations this year.”

As Roberts explains, “I’m interested in the Lilly Fellowship at this stage of my career because I want to be a better teacher. Becoming a Lilly Fellow…will allow me to learn, converse, and discuss teaching pedagogy and concepts with other assistant professors who are in similar situations.”

Roberts adds that “As a faculty member, I always strive to be the best mentor and role model for students, especially for female and BIPOC students who often do not see people who look like them among the engineering faculty.”

As part of her quest to be a better mentor, role model, and teacher, Roberts was a co-chair for the committee that spearheaded the College of Engineering Curriculum Challenge in the fall of 2020, when the college asked engineering faculty to develop lesson plans that integrate issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the curriculum. Subsequently, she developed a week-long lesson plan for her Human Factors Design Engineering course that focused on equity and social justice.

“It was a rewarding and eye-opening experience for both me and the students, some of whom said, ‘I didn’t even know you could incorporate equity and inclusion into engineering design.’ Hearing comments such as that have inspired me to weave these concepts throughout all of my courses.”

The Lilly Fellowship will allow Roberts to take another step toward perfecting her teaching skills. Through her Lilly Fellowship, Roberts plans to transform her teaching of her course in Probability and Statistics for Engineers.

As Roberts says about that course, “I want to redesign MIE 273/CEE 260 such that students realize how useful statistics are for their other engineering courses as well as in life. I plan to do so by incorporating project-based learning into the curriculum.”

Roberts explains that the three courses she has previously taught (MIE 422, MIE 657, and MIE 697RM) all included a semester-long project that allows students to integrate course concepts and demonstrate mastery of the material.

“Adding a semester-long project to MIE 273/CEE 260 will allow students to apply the theoretical, and oftentimes esoteric, mathematical principles to an actual engineering design problem,” says Roberts.

Roberts says that students will work in teams on a semester-long project with the end goal of developing a product. As students progress through the semester, they will complete three project modules that correspond to probability and statistical concepts. Each module will also incorporate aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“For example,” says Roberts, “module 1 will consider probabilistic variability in the population according to demographics, and module 3 will compare product effectiveness across different groups using statistics. I plan to track how the change in course structure affects students’ learning, retention, and mastery of the material using various techniques along with other methods that I learn about through the fellowship.”

Roberts concludes that “The Lilly fellowship is the perfect avenue to pursue such a drastic change in course structure because it will allow me the opportunity to dive deep into principles underlying successful student group work and evaluation.” (April 2021)