|April 26, 2001
Volume 31 Number 15
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Mills Is Outstanding Teacher
Russell S. Mills, professor of Civil Engineering, has been chosen by the Faculty Recognition and Support Committee as the Outstanding Teacher for 2000 - 2001. Mills received his B.S. in civil engineering, magna cum laude, in 1974 from CSU, Chico and his M.S. and Ph.D. in structural engineering from Stanford University in 1975 and 1979, respectively.
Shortly before Mills completed his graduate work, a respected figure in engineering education asked him if he planned to teach. "Teaching was of little interest to me at the time, and I told him so," said Mills. "I wanted to work in the field as a structural engineer."
After working with a diverse group of consultants in San Francisco for four years, Mills eventually came to the realization that something was missing. "The truth was that, no matter how challenging and interesting the work, it was still just work," he said. "I found myself browsing the Positions Available' sections in professional periodicals, where I read that my home school had an opening."
In the fall of 1982, Mills began his teaching career at CSU, Chico. Despite his advanced education and practical experience in engineering, he felt ill-equipped to teach, and thus began his own education in effective teaching. "I felt pressure because most of my students would become engineers on whom public safety would depend," he noted.
Nearly 20 years later, Mills is being recognized as one of the best teachers in a technical field where it is not always easy to create techniques that encourage student participation. His objective is to "create a learning environment in which most students thrive." He describes the meticulous preparation that allows him to conduct a seemingly spontaneous class: "I seldom refer to notes. This encourages students to participate in the spontaneity by asking questions and volunteering personal anecdotes. This may seem routine to many university educators, but it is challenging to accomplish in technical courses."
His students have lauded his teaching in such written comments in student evaluations as: Mills is the best teacher I have had in the CE department; Precise, to the point; Well lectured, well organized; One of the best [instructors] I've had at CSU, Chico; Instructor makes every effort to ensure student success; His class is highly interesting; He cares about students. Graduates of the civil engineering program rank their preparation in the area of structural engineering, an area in which Mills is one of three faculty, as one of the strongest.
Mills has taught over a dozen different civil engineering classes with a high degree of proficiency, reported Maurice Mow, chair of Civil Engineering. He's taught in other educational areas as well. "His repertoire of courses transcends six distinct academic areas, a multitude of different course types (lecture, discussion, laboratory, experiential), at all student levels from freshman to graduate," wrote Mow in a letter of recommendation to the FRAS committee. "There are very few faculty who have demonstrated teaching ability in such a variety of learning environments."
The steel bridge competition team, for which Mills has been the faculty adviser, has brought prestige to the civil engineering department. Chico's steel bridge team has won the regional competition and qualified for the national event in each of the four previous years.
Last year, building on their past successes, the group was awarded the top prize at the national competition. Mills' colleague, Joel Arthur, took over as adviser last year.
Mow praises Mills' contributions to student education apart from teaching and extracurricular activities. Last fall, Mills was elected to a second four-year term on the General Education Advisory Committee, which
he is currently chairing. He participated in a multicampus CSU project to identify learning outcomes in mathematics for the baccalaureate. "The results of this project have significant implications for the entire CSU system," remarked Mow.
This year, as the recipient of the Presidential Leadership Award, Mills is developing materials to assist instructors of general education courses and investigating methods for assessing student learning in GE breadth Area B-Mathmatics at CSU, Chico.
Other awards Mills has received in recognition of his teaching and professional excellence include CSU, Chico Meritorious Performance Award for extracurricular activities; Professional Promise Award for excellence in teaching; recognition from the American Society of Civil Engineers for outstanding service; Engineering Professor of the Year in 1994; Fulbright Research Award to Mexico; and reviewer for the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program.
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