August 17, 2012 by Alissa Falcone
Drexel professor Mira Olson recently learned she won an Outstanding Teaching in Environmental Engineering and Science award from McGraw-Hill and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors for her efforts in teaching environmental engineering. She will accept the award Oct. 1 at a ceremony in New Orleans.
Olson, an assistant professor in the civil, architectural and environmental engineering department, originally submitted her application for the award in March after a previous winner of the award nominated her. According to Olson, she had to submit a teaching portfolio based on her experience as a professor at Drexel. Among other items, it contained course evaluations, letters of recommendation, and a description of her teaching philosophy.
The award, which is sponsored by McGraw-Hill, consists of a plaque and a $500 cash prize. According to AEESP, the award is given based on classroom and extracurricular activities and “is given annually to recognize an environmental engineering or science professor who is making outstanding contributions to the teaching of environmental engineering, both at the individual’s home institution and beyond.”
Since coming to Drexel in 2006, Olson has brought civic engagement and interactive teaching to her environmental engineering classes. She currently serves as director of the “Engineering Cities” Research Experience for Undergraduates program that allows undergraduate students from across the country to conduct research on urban sustainability for 10 weeks.
“Our goal for the students is not only that they gain expertise in a particular research area by becoming a part of a research team but also that they understand the broader ethical, political and social implications of their work,” Olson wrote in an email.
According to Olson, the students, who work with faculty and graduate students as advisers, also take trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City to learn the effects of engineering on policy and urban development.
“This is the third year the program has been running, and so far we’ve had over 30 participants,” she wrote.
Olson has also seen increased participation in another program she has been involved with for some time, as the Blankenburg Science Fair Club for Girls that she started in 2007 currently has 14 recruited Drexel students serving as advisers for girls attending West Philadelphia middle schools.
Olson said that she started the group both to provide and to create role models for women in the science field.
“It’s been really rewarding, both to see the girls engaged in creative hands-on experiments and to see the Drexel students working with them and getting to know them better each week,” she wrote.
Olson added, “Drexel engineering students accompany me to Blankenburg each week. They work with a group of girls, help run the experiments and talk about their paths into engineering. Some of the Drexel students still keep in touch with the girls they have mentored!”
During the fall term, Olson will teach Introduction to Environmental Engineering and will continue her innovative learning methods.
“My goal is to incorporate an interactive activity or classroom demonstration into every week,” she wrote.
The 2012 McGraw-Hill/AEESP Awards will be presented at the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference in New Orleans.