Nov. 5, 2013

McCormicks give $5M to support teaching excellence

Kathryn Dimiduk and Susan Daniel
Jason Koski/University Photography
Kathryn Dimiduk, left, director of the College of Engineering's James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute, and Susan Daniel, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, display a digital tablet in this 2010 file photo.

“I had struggled with teaching,” admits Susan Daniel, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Daniel, who joined Cornell’s faculty in 2007, knew that she wanted to be a more contemporary and inspiring teacher, and a teacher who used technology to engage her students in active learning.

“But I didn’t know how to do what I wanted to do with my class. I didn’t have the experience, and I didn’t have the budget,” she says.

In 2008, the College of Engineering launched the Teaching Excellence Institute (TEI) and hired its first director, Kathryn Dimiduk ’79, a Cornellian with a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford and 19 years of college teaching experience.

The results of Dimiduk’s consultations with Daniel included the introduction of i-Clickers in Daniel’s class, which allow the professor to poll or quiz students at any given moment; Wacom tablets that instantly digitize materials and lecture notes; the production of a “virtual tour” video of Daniel’s visit to a power plant; and the development of a new class project wherein students were asked to model the human body as a set of chemical processes.

In 2011, the American Society for Engineering Education recognized Daniel, who had once been a lackluster teacher by her own estimation, with an Outstanding Teaching Award.

In addition to working individually with more than 100 professors, the TEI also manages a technology lending library for faculty and conducts midsemester student surveys, which deliver student feedback to professors quickly so adjustments can be made to a class still in progress. TEI has also played a role in recruiting new professors who have ambitions to excel in classroom teaching as well as in their research.

This June, the McCormick family – James ’69, M.Eng. ’70, Marsha ’70 and son James Jr. ’05, M.Eng. ’06 – longtime supporters of teaching initiatives at the college, made a $5 million gift to endow the institute, making permanent the kind of services that helped Daniel.

James “Jim” McCormick is founder and president of First Manhattan Consulting Group, a banking services consulting firm. He is a member of the Engineering College Council, and he and wife Marsha, who met at Cornell, endowed the chair of Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“I always thought,” says Jim McCormick, “that professors brilliant at research had the desire to be terrifically effective in the classroom as well. It turns out that they do, and are receptive to upping their game if the right one-to-one coaching is offered.”

“The McCormicks’ gift,” says Dean Lance Collins, “will have a profound and lasting impact on engineering at Cornell. Like engineering itself, inspired teaching is an applied science. The James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute gives us the coaching, the technological tools, the expertise and the innovation to engineer courses that are more effective.”

Emily Sanders Hopkins is a writer in Alumni Affairs and Development.