Assistant professor Guzin Bayraksan of the University of Arizona department of systems and industrial engineering has won the 2012 Five Star Teaching Award.
Bayraksan was teaching a class March 30 in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building, when, to her great surprise, in burst a group of people bearing flowers and cookies.
In keeping with tradition, Five Star Teaching Award recipients are kept completely in the dark about their award and only find out when the Honors College springs it on them.
Making the award were Patricia MacCorquodale, dean of the Honors College, Jeff Goldberg, dean of the College of Engineering, and Lizzie Greene, head of the award's student selection committee and a sophomore in systems and industrial engineering.
The Honors College has sponsored the Five Star Faculty Award since 1983. The award is unique at the UA in that it is the only universitywide teaching award for which nominees and winners are selected exclusively by students. The award recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching and comes with a $1,000 prize.
Bayraksan managed to stay composed as MacCorquodale gave a brief speech to the cheering class, and Greene presented flowers. "I am ecstatic. I'm very pleasantly surprised and very honored," Bayraksan said. "It's an honor just to be nominated, but to win it is unbelievable."
Goldberg described Bayraksan as "an outstanding educator" and added that she embodies the UA College of Engineering's strategic goals of recruiting the strongest students, then helping them to learn and achieve so they become outstanding engineering professionals.
"This starts with our freshman experience," Goldberg said, "and goes through department classes, like those taught by Dr. Bayraksan, and terminates with a senior design experience that mimics the workplace."
Bayraksan's Five Star Faculty Award comes on the heels of another award that pays tribute to her teaching and research excellence. She recently received a grant of $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to research sustainability of water resources in the Southwest.
Bayraksan was awarded the five-year grant under the NSF's prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program. The program supports junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research. This prestigious award also recognizes junior faculty members with the highest potential to become future leaders in their research areas.
Bayraksan, who also is a member of the UA graduate interdisciplinary program in applied mathematics research, will focus her research on developing methods and models for managing the water resources and infrastructures essential to the 25-30 million people who live in the Southwestern U.S.
Under this NSF grant, her research will tackle two specific problems: allocation of water from the Lower Colorado River Basin, and the design and operation of a regional infrastructure for water reuse.
It is virtually impossible to plan with any certainty the future of water allocation and reuse on such a massive scale because of the unpredictability of the many variables that affect them. It's often too expensive, too difficult or too time consuming to accurately measure the ever-changing or simply unquantifiable factors that affect water resource planning.
This uncertainty is where Bayraksan's expertise comes into play. She is director of the UA's MORE Institute – MORE stands for Modeling and Optimization Research and Education – and an expert in "decision-making under uncertainty," that is, using computer-based mathematical modeling and simulation to help make the best possible decisions.
In water resource planning, these inscrutable variables include the weather, population dynamics and capricious trends in agriculture and industry, not to mention the political mores of the Southwestern states and an uncertain economic future.
Bayraksan's primary tool in making the best possible decisions in the face of all this uncertainty and ambiguity is what is known as "stochastic optimization." This complex methodology, which has its roots in artificial intelligence, is already widely used to make sense of such complex systems as transportation networks, flight schedules and financial and energy markets.
Although the models and methods developed by Bayraksan will be directed at solving water problems in the Southwest, they will be applicable wherever water is scarce. In addition, the curricular materials and tutorials developed will help educate a new generation of engineers on the applications of decision-making under uncertainty.
The project also will promote and increase the visibility of women students through a Women in Industrial and Systems Engineering Research, or WISER, program.
Goldberg noted that Bayraksan's Five Star Teaching Award was the latest in a series of laurels for UA Engineering faculty.
"In the past four years, the College of Engineering has had two five star award winners, four university distinguished professors, one Sherrill creative teaching award and a host of teaching awards from engineering professional organizations and foundations," Goldberg said. "Our faculty and staff take our teaching mission seriously and our excellence shows."