UW Today

This is an archived article.

October 16, 1998

Inspiring undergraduates to reach new heights,Salesin named ‘Washington Professor of the Year’

David Salesin‘s resume keeps getting longer as he makes room for his ever-expanding list of honors and awards. The latest addition comes from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, which has named Salesin the 1998-99 Washington Professor of the Year.

Created by CASE in 1981, Professor of the Year awards are given in recognition of extraordinary dedication to teaching, commitment to students and innovative teaching methods. This year the program recognized four national award winners as well as top professors in 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“The lives of tomorrow’s leaders and scholars are being shaped every day in our undergraduate classrooms and laboratories,” said Carnegie Foundation President Lee S. Shulman. “In honoring these distinguished professors who have exhibited excellence in teaching their disciplines and extraordinary dedication to their students, we are supporting the centrality of teaching on campus and recognizing its importance to the future of our country.”

The professors honored this year embody the spirit of education in their passionate pursuit of knowledge and in their talent to encourage those around them to explore, inquire and imagine, added CASE President Eustace D. Theodore.
“Their impact on the future of this nation is profound and enduring, as is that of all the dedicated and talented professors who teach on our nation’s campuses,” he said.

Salesin’s impact as a teacher can hardly be overstated. Since joining the UW Department of Computer Science & Engineering in 1991, Salesin has:

? Amassed an unprecedented collection of top research awards while closely involving undergraduates in his cutting edge work.

? Revolutionized the department’s computer graphics curriculum and put the UW on the map in this emerging field just at a time when demand for such graduates is building.

? Spearheaded the development of a cross-disciplinary animation arts curriculum that exposes computer science, art and music students to real-world animation production like no other university program in the country.

? Transformed his department’s teaching assistant training program so successfully that participants received significantly higher student evaluations than teaching assistants in previous years.

? Won the 1997 UW Distinguished Teaching Award.

“It goes without saying that David is an extraordinary faculty member,” said Ed Lazowska, chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering. “He’s incredibly creative, and he understands that the business of the university is education — that the research we do should be an integral part of the process of educating our students at all degree levels.”

While research is thought by some to come at the expense of undergraduate education, Salesin has demonstrated how effectively and creatively research and teaching can be weaved together to inspire student learning and achievement.

In the Computer Science & Engineering Department, Salesin pioneered the use of undergraduate teaching assistants in his computer graphics courses. In addition to cementing their knowledge of the basic material, the students are exposed to the latest advancements in the field and participate in incorporating this material into the courses. Students in the classes benefit from having several enthusiastic undergraduate TA’s, who view the job as an honor rather than a chore, as opposed to a single graduate student.

Top TAs are invited to join Salesin’s Graphics and Imaging Laboratory as research assistants. Generally, they are paired with graduate students who have complimentary skills and begin tackling one of Salesin’s many and varied computer graphics projects. Usually, this work leads to publishable results which the students are expected to help write up, submit for publication and present. In 1996, Salesin set a record by having eight research papers accepted at SIGGRAPH, the premiere venue for presenting computer graphics research. Four of the papers were co-authored by UW undergraduates.

“It’s a pretty big deal to have a SIGGRAPH paper on your resume. It’s almost unheard of to have that kind of publication on your resume as an undergraduate,” said Brad West, one of Salesin’s former undergraduate research assistants who now is a technical director at the animation studio Pixar.

Salesin is quick to point out that he is only trying to replicate the rich undergraduate experience he had at Brown University under professors Andries van Dam and Thomas Banchoff, who incidentally was named Rhode Island Professor of the Year in 1997.

“The education I received as an undergraduate at Brown University was the most important factor in shaping my career,” he said. “Outstanding undergraduates in computer science were individually mentored in ways that truly changed lives. I have found it enormously satisfying to watch students grow and, through their own hard work, gain confidence and skill, and ultimately embark on careers where they may teach or do research on their own.”

Previous UW winners of the Washington Professor of the Year award include Professor of Chemistry Norm Rose in 1991 and Professor of Psychology Lee Roy Beach in 1989.