Mechanical engineering professor earns student-administered teaching award


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Linxiao Zhu, John J. and Jean M. Brennan Clean Energy Early Career Assistant Professor at Penn State, was awarded the designation of “Top Professor” by the University’s student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in the spring of 2021.

Students voted to recognize an outstanding professor that exemplified teaching excellence and cultivated a supportive learning environment. This is the second time this award was bestowed in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME).

Zhu joined the department in August 2020 and, like all Penn State faculty, transitioned his coursework to an entirely virtual environment in 2020. He found that quite a few of his students needed to learn asynchronously since they were residing in a different time zone. In the past, he conducted live polls which were graded mostly for participation to make sure students were following the lecture material. In the virtual setting, however, the format did not translate for students learning asynchronously and viewing recorded lectures. Zhu adapted his approach to provide all of his students with a similar experience.

“I created video quizzes by embedding in-class questions into video clips of the class, so that these students could still participate,” he said. “Also, other students have found these video quizzes useful when they are unable to attend the classes.”

Zhu explained that he benefited greatly from mentors and professors during his career, and he feels honored to fulfill that role for his students.

“I want to thank my students for giving this award to me,” he said. “It was a big surprise to me. I am very glad that my students felt happy and interested in the class.”

Karen A. Thole, distinguished professor and ME department head, applauded the work of Zhu and his students.

“This was a very challenging year for our faculty, staff and students,” Thole said. “Dr. Zhu and his students were an excellent example of resilience and success throughout the semester!”


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