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A first for SDSU / Hansen named teacher of year by IEEE

"Tim Hansen"
Tim Hansen

Electrical engineering assistant professor Tim Hansen maintains a robust research portfolio, but he doesn’t use that as an excuse to skimp on his teaching assignments.

Because of that commitment, Hansen is the first South Dakota State University faculty member to be named teacher of the year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the world’s largest technical professional organization. Officially called the C. Holmes MacDonald Outstanding Teaching Award, it is the only teaching award given by IEEE, which has numerous specialty societies.

Hansen is a member of the power and energy society and the computer society. His research has focused on computer applications to energy management and energy storage for electric power systems.

But in the classroom, Hansen’s teaching load includes Digital Systems, Advanced Power Systems Analysis and Fundamentals of High-Performance Computing.

“I have always heard that faculty are hired because of their research and they don't have to be good teachers,” said Hansen, who is in his fifth year as a faculty member, all at SDSU. “I've seen the difference between those who put time into teaching and those who don't. I’m very active in research, but if you give me a class, I'm going to put time into it. If students are paying, I'm at least going to put effort into it.”

Hansen’s SDSU contract calls for 45% teaching, 45% research, and 10% service. Because of staff vacancies, he taught three class sections in fall semester. Normally, he teaches three classes a year. “By teaching three it allows me to put full time and effort into each one and I think that comes through, too,” said Hansen, who will receive his award at the IEEE awards presentations Nov. 22 in Boston. View the IEEE announcement.

Internship steered career path

IEEE states the MacDonald award was established in 1972 to recognize “engineering professors who have demonstrated, early in their careers, special dedication and creativity in their teaching responsibilities. Thus, it is, in part, a counterbalance to the significant pressure for research and publication performance on young professors and a re-affirmation of the basic and essential need of excellence in teaching.”

Hansen was a graduate student with an internship at the National Renewal Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, when he found he appreciated the flexibility offered by academics as opposed to industry work where one’s research area and weekly schedule is dictated. After graduating in 2015, Hansen accepted a tenure-track position in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which had just moved into the newly built Daktronics Hall a few years earlier.

Takes student-focused approach

At State, he has “taken a student-focused, active-learning approach within the classroom,” according to Steve Hietpas, the former department head who nominated Hansen for the award.

The California native revitalized the teaching approach for his course load by reducing lecture time and finding other methods to match the 10- to 12-minute attention span of students, such as group or partner discussions or problem-solving.

Hansen also designed two new courses—Fundamentals of High-Performance Computing and Computer Analysis of Power Systems. The power systems courses had been a graduate-only course. Hansen made it a 400/500 level course and teams graduate and undergraduate students on projects.

High-performance computing is a course-listed elective for electrical engineering and computer sciences students. It’s drawn good interest from students in both majors, with the goal of having university-wide participation.

Working with Bob Fourney, associate professor in electrical engineering, Hansen also redesigned the computer engineering curriculum, moving it from a focus on central processing units to ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) processing. “ARM is the most common processor. It’s used in cell phones. In fact, it’s used in 85% of processors,” Hansen said.