Space Studies Receives Prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award at Founder's Day
Members of the Space Studies faculty proudly received the UND Foundation/Thomas J. Clifford Award for Departmental Excellence in Teaching at the UND Founder’s Day award ceremony and banquet on February 27th. A special thank you goes out to those who nominated Space Studies for this prestigious award. The “above and beyond” attitude of the Space Studies faculty is demonstrated by the following excerpt from the Founder’s Day program.
Though the department is only 25 years old, the Department of Space Studies faculty and staff have developed and successfully nurtured an outstanding learning environment for all of their students, whether they are on campus or are distance learners. The innovative research areas of the department are integrated into the teaching curriculum to allow for hands-on experience on cutting-edge projects, such as the Mars Rover project and the space suit development research. Adding to the outstanding learning environment within the department are integrated research experiences made possible by the Oakville UND Observatory, which is managed by a Space Studies faculty member. The observatory utilizes Internet-controllable telescopes in support of remote astronomical observations by campus and distance students.
Department faculty also go above and beyond the call of duty by giving of their time, even outside of work hours. One faculty member took 17 undergraduate and graduate students to the Washington, D.C., area during spring break to visit a variety of space and governmental facilities in support of a course he teaches.
“The faculty member used his own hotel points for the students so that the students could stay for free,” said Paul Lindseth, professor and associate dean for academics at the School of Aerospace Sciences.
These are among the many examples why the Department of Space Studies earned the Departmental Excellence in Teaching Award.
In its short history, the Department of Space Studies has developed an international reputation for excellence. The master’s program has been recognized nationally and internationally, and a PhD program started in 2012. At the heart of everything in the department are the needs of the students.
“The department is a student-centered department,” explained Dr. Santhosh Seelan, professor and chair of the department. “We do everything possible to ensure that the students enjoy the learning experience. The department offers a student-centered environment where students are treated with respect. Students are the center of our program. We often remind ourselves that we are here because of the students, and not the other way.”
It’s clear the students appreciate that attitude.
“The Space Studies Department is a family. From the weekly brown bag lectures that feature current graduate students’ research to guest lecturers from industry to holiday parties at Dr. Seelan’s house, there is a sense of belonging,” said 2012 graduate Tim Holland. “With any family, the faculty of the Space Studies Department cares about their students. They take the time to interact with their students, not just in the classroom or during office hours, but also in their off time.”
Along with carrying out their teaching, research, and service responsibilities during regular business hours, department faculty routinely conduct online chat sessions for the benefit of distance students in the evenings. And they take student feedback seriously.
“One example of their commitment to distance students was when the faculty solicited and received feedback from students saying they felt disconnected from their professors,” said former student Matthew Allner, now an adjunct assistant professor at Webster University. “The response to this was the development and organization of an event each fall inviting distance students to attend an open house where they could get to visit and know faculty and other fellow students in both the on-campus and distance programs. From this came more meaningful student collaboration efforts and opportunities to dialogue on curricular topics, capstone projects, and ideas for theses developments.”
The department is known for its collaborations. The North Dakota Space Grant and the North Dakota NASA EPSCoR programs are managed from the department.
The department’s master’s program is an interdisciplinary program that encompasses space sciences, engineering, policy, law, commerce, and history.
“UND was the first in the world to introduce this integrated approach in 1987,” Seelan said. “Faculty, as a result, have very different backgrounds and various specializations.”
And they have a wealth of experience. The eight tenure track/tenured faculty in the department have a combined work experience of 245 years. In addition, three faculty members who have worked in the department during its 25-year history have been Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors.
“The department’s first 25 years have been truly outstanding, and we expect the superb learning environment nurtured within the department to continue for the next 25 years and beyond,” Lindseth said.