Summa Laude Dignatus
Graduate Mentor Award
Sterling Munro Public Service Teaching Award
Association Distinguished Service Award
Public Service Award
Award for Instructional Excellence
Award for Instructional Excellence
Computer Science & Engineering
Distinguished Teaching Award
The Distinguished Teaching Awards are given to University faculty who show a mastery of their subject matter, intellectual rigor, lively curiosity, a commitment to research and a passion for teaching.
Teaching is a two-way street for Chris Diorio.
The UW assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering recalls a class a while back in which he and a faculty colleague collaborated in presenting a problem to the students, the idea being the students would then separate into groups to devise a solution.
“We worked out what we thought was a good solution ahead of time,” Diorio recalled. “Once in class, we explained our approach, then separated them into six groups to work on it.”
Five of the groups labored away following the advice of their instructors. The sixth group of students tossed caution to the wind, however, and pursued an idea of their own.
“Their approach was so much better than what we had come up with,” Diorio said with a laugh. “It actually turned into a research project that we ended up doing some work on. You get a lot out of teaching here. The students are smart.”
The ability to bring out keen intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning in his students is among Diorio’s strong points, according to colleagues, and make him a natural choice as winner of one of this year’s Distinguished Teaching Awards.
In his three and a half years at the UW, Diorio has transformed computer science curriculum with his exploration of neurally inspired computing, said department Chair Ed Lazowska. He has also become the University’s most honored assistant professor, garnering national awards including an NSF Career Award, an NSF Presidential Early Career Award, a Sloan Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship and an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.
“Chris sets the gold standard,” Lazowska said. “He is a star and an incredibly creative force.”
In addition, student evaluations of Diorio’s classroom performance are consistently the highest in the department.
“He’s an engaging teacher in an area that is groundbreaking and intrinsically interesting; he’s nice, he’s approachable and, on top of that, he’s the winner of virtually every research prize for which he is imaginably eligible,” said CS&E Professor John Zahorjan, whose office is adjacent to Diorio’s. “Students are climbing over each other to be around this guy.”
If that’s the case, Diorio says, much of the credit belongs to the students themselves, who are always pushing him. He said he tries to foster a classroom atmosphere that is open and collaborative. That’s good for the students — and good for him.
“The best classes are ones that are very interactive, where people are hitting me with questions and the discussion takes twists and turns,” he said. “They come up with questions that I haven’t thought of before.”
Diorio’s teaching extends outside the classroom, according to Lazowska. Since coming to the UW, he has taken on 10 undergraduate research advisees. Among them have been the University’s first Rhodes Scholar in 15 years and students currently engaged in doctoral work at other top national universities.
“But Chris does not restrict his attention to superstars,” Lazowska said. He tells of a student who graduated several years ago from another school with a mediocre GPA. The student moved to Seattle and, after working for a couple years, decided he wanted to pursue graduate studies. Diorio offered him a position in his lab to test his potential, then worked with him in attending UW classes on a non-matriculated basis. The student thrived and has applied to enter graduate studies in electrical engineering in the fall.
“It’s another life changed and another indication of a truly distinguished teacher,” Lazowska said.
– Rob Harrill, News & Information