Prof. Vallancourt Wins 2013 Presidential Teaching Award

David Vallancourt, senior lecturer in electrical engineering,  has been awarded Columbia’s Presidential Teaching Award, a top teaching honor given by the University to just five recipients each year at Commencement. Established in 1996, the presidential awards recognize the best of Columbia’s teachers “for the influence they have on the development of their students and their part in maintaining the University’s longstanding reputation for educational excellence.”

Vallancourt was surprised to hear the news. He teaches the first-year engineering course in electrical engineering and has been credited for keeping the lectures fresh, fun, and full of interesting demonstrations. “One of my main tools is making connections between course material and common devices with which students are familiar,” says Vallancourt, who has in the past dissected everything from smartphones to electric guitars in class. “This gives me the opportunity to tear things apart on ‘company time,’ and what engineer wouldn’t enjoy that?”

Vallancourt, who is also an alumnus of Columbia Engineering, having earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD here all in electrical engineering, joined the School in 1987 as an assistant professor. In 1992, he left Columbia for AT&T Bell Labs (later Lucent Technologies) where he served on the technical staff until 2000. Before returning to Morningside in 2005 as a senior lecturer in Circuits and Systems in the Department of Electrical Engineering, he worked at Texas Instruments and Vitesse Semiconductor.

This is not the first time Vallancourt has been honored for exemplary teaching. In 2007, he received a Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award, which is presented annually on Class Day by the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association. What makes him a good teacher? “I try to lower the perceived wall between ‘faculty’ and ‘student’,” he says, “and to be friendly and helpful as my teachers and industry mentors have been. I don’t make students follow a lot of rules, and instead, encourage them to focus on the engineering.”

For Vallancourt, the reward of teaching is a two-way street. “Chatting with students is a blast. I’ve met some really cool people who might not normally hang out with an old white-haired guy.”

David Vallancourt joins five Engineering professors who have won the Presidential Teaching Award in the past. This list of outstanding educators includes Patricia Culligan, professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics; George Deodatis, Santiago and Robertina Calatrava Family Professor of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; George Flynn, Higgins Professor of Chemistry and professor of chemical engineering; Yannis Tsividis, Charles Batchelor Professor of Electrical Engineering; and the late Nicholas Turro, William P. Schweitzer Professor of Chemistry and former co-chair of chemical engineering.


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