The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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McLaughlin Receives Distinguished Teaching Award and Is Chosen as TIDE Ambassador

David McLaughlin

David McLaughlin

David McLaughlin, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Administration and a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, has been selected for two major honors by the UMass Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development (TEFD). First, McLaughlin received a Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest honor for classroom excellence. TEFD then named McLaughlin one of the 12 TIDE Ambassadors for the campus, with TIDE standing for Teaching for Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Equity.

The purpose of the Distinguished Teaching Award program, a feature of the UMass Amherst campus for over 30 years, is to honor exemplary teaching at the highest institutional level. Both faculty and graduate students, nominated by students or alumni, are eligible for this highly-competitive award. Distinguished Teaching Award winners receive a monetary prize and are recognized at both the Undergraduate and Graduate Commencements.

One of McLaughlin’s most remarkable courses is Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering for students from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department, a course which climaxes each year with an extravaganza called the “smart-car demo.” Visitors are invited to attend, watch, and enjoy this whirling-dervish demonstration of scale-model, collision-avoiding, smart cars, as built by the students in McLaughlin’s course. See video of a previous year’s demonstration.

The annual demonstration is a sort of anti-demolition derby, in which scores of model smart cars – built in teams by the approximately 185 undergraduate MIE students in McLaughlin’s class – duck, dodge, and dart across the floor in a choreography of collision avoidance. The demonstration marks the culmination of a semester-long assignment to build model cars using Arduino processors, motors, transistors, gears, and various sensors to monitor and control the vehicle movement.

The TIDE Ambassadors Fellowship is a competitive award program in its inaugural year that recognizes the vital role faculty fulfill in creating an inclusive and equitable college experience for all students. Ambassadors serve as catalysts for change by designing a diversity-focused workshop or program to share their growing expertise with colleagues at the departmental, school or college, or campus-wide level.

TIDE Ambassadors build a yearlong community of practice, attending a three-day institute in May, a half-day institute in December, a day-long institute the following May, and seminars on teaching pedagogy twice a semester.

One criterion for choosing McLaughlin as a Tide Ambassador was his collaboration with Stonewall Center Director Genny Beemyn and Student Union Craft Center Director Paula Hodecker in a new seminar course called “Queer Lights.”

“We created the ‘Queer Lights’ seminar course during Spring 2016 as a way to offer students from all campus majors an interesting, accessible combination of topics and an inclusive learning environment,” says McLaughlin.

The course description for “Queer Lights” is that “It will cast light on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and asexual (LGBTQA) topics while the students in the class literally cast light – building LGBTQA-themed electronic light displays. [Professor McLaughlin] and the director of the university Craft Center will teach the students how to create and program the displays, and the director of the Stonewall Center will lead the students in discussions about LGBTQA issues in the news and in their own lives. Some of the topics to be covered include the intersections of racial and LGBTQA identities, the campus climate for LGBTQA students, and the legal and political rights of LGBTQA people today.’”

McLaughlin adds that this course is providing a valuable chance for LGBTQA students to be out and work with technology. The course also is introducing heterosexual, cisgender students to LGBTQA topics through class discussions.

“This course contributes to, and may be a new model for, addressing diversity, inclusion, and equity topics in the classroom,” says McLaughlin. “I think the TIDE Ambassador program – with its workshops and discussions and idea exchanges and subsequent deliverables – can be an effective platform for assessing and extending this course and model. And it can be a platform for sharing ideas with my faculty colleagues in engineering.”

McLaughlin says that, as a Tide Ambassador, he would also like to offer a workshop for engineering faculty members on inclusiveness, diversity, and equity.

McLaughlin is a previous recipient of other high-profile campus awards, including the award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity, Distinguished Lecturer, and the Chancellor’s Medal, which is the highest honor the campus bestows on individuals and is given for exemplary and extraordinary service to the university. (May 2016)