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Robert Fleischman, Afrooz Jalilzadeh and Hal Tharp (from left) represent the College of Engineering in this year's Awards of Distinction for University of Arizona faculty.

University Selects Three Engineering Professors as Top Undergraduate Instructors

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University Selects Three Engineering Professors as Top Undergraduate Instructors

June 26, 2024
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Robert Fleischman, Afrooz Jalilzadeh and Hal Tharp and are recognized with 2024 Awards of Distinction.

The University of Arizona announced the winners of its 2024 Awards of Distinction. Robert Fleischman, Afrooz Jalilzadeh and Hal Tharp were chosen for excellence in teaching undergraduates.

Awards of Distinction honor faculty members who have positively impacted students, colleagues and local communities. The university will host a celebration in spring 2025.

“I’m thrilled to see the university recognize three Engineering professors as among the university’s most dedicated teachers,” said David W. Hahn, the Craig M. Berge Dean of the College of Engineering. “Students will remember the encouragement and insights these professors gave them for the rest of their lives.”

This is the case for electrical and computer engineering alum Cinthya Tang, who contributed to Hal Tharp’s nomination for the Gerald J. Swanson Prize for Teaching Excellence. Tang and others credited Tharp, ECE associate department head and associate professor, for engaging with his students to develop their skills outside of engineering.

“Beyond the confines of the classroom, professor Tharp has been instrumental in shaping my leadership skills,” said Tang, who graduated in 2017 and is a software project engineer at Honeywell. “His ability to remember intricate details about his students, coupled with his thoughtful and engaging teaching style, left an indelible mark on me.”

Nominators also called Tharp a “consistent and significant leader in ECE academic programs,” often teaching courses for other professors who are on emergency leave, showing other faculty how to use technology and creating effective teaching materials. He was awarded the University of Arizona Leicester & Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award in 2016 and received the ECE Award for Excellence at the Student Interface 10 times between 1995 and 2023.

“I am honored to receive this award, but mostly I feel a sense of gratitude – gratitude toward those who nominated me, those who I have learned from, and the students who have helped me learn how to improve as an instructor,” Tharp said.

Assistant professor of systems and industrial engineering Afrooz Jalilzadeh also received the Gerald J. Swanson Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“She embodies the essence of what an outstanding professor is, setting an example for all of her fellow instructors at our university,” said Paul O’Brien Sylvester, a 2024 graduate and the spring 2024 outstanding senior for industrial engineering. “Her teaching methods and classroom environment should be what every professor models their style off of.”

Jalilzadeh’s teaching style revolves around curiosity and enthusiasm. She focuses on fostering critical thinking, real-world relevance, and adaptability.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor, and I am deeply grateful to my students and colleagues for nominating me,” Jalilzadeh said. “It feels incredibly rewarding to be recognized for my efforts, and it motivates me to keep fostering a supportive and engaging learning environment.”

Jalilzadeh’s research aims to address complex issues in training machine learning models to pursue more efficient energy use and develop better machine learning algorithms. She also leads the Optimization and Mathematical Analysis (OPTIMA) Lab at the UA.

The award, which includes a $5,000 prize, was created in honor of professor emeritus of economics Gerald J. Swanson.

Professor of civil and architectural engineering Robert Fleischman received the University Distinguished Professor Award. Created in 1995 by President Manuel Pacheco, the award honors faculty who have made noteworthy contributions through a long-term commitment to undergraduate education and comes with a $5,000 increase to base salary.

Nominators praised Fleischman’s dedication and excellence in teaching and for his influence as an educator, innovator and researcher. He has directed over $5 million in research, which includes projects that focus on earthquake resistant building design, and he has more than 80 journal publications and conference papers.

Fleischman’s teaching philosophy centers on providing students with perspective on what they are learning and the most effective strategies for accurate problem solving.

“It is a great honor and quite humbling. It feels really good to be recognized,” Fleischman said. “We all put a lot of time, thought and effort into what we do, and appreciation or positive feedback for what we do may not come regularly.”