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Teaching award will benefit engineering design classes

May 27, 2009

David Frakes remembers university engineering design courses he took that, due to a lack of resources, provided only Popsicle sticks and uncooked pasta for students to use in making models of structures and devices they were designing for class projects.

Now he’s looking forward to providing more upscale building materials for Arizona State University students in his Engineering Product Design courses.

Frakes will use at least half of the $15,000 that came with his recent Centennial Professor of the Year award to purchase materials for his future students to use for building actual prototypes of biomedical devices.

“Last semester we had to stop at the conceptual design stage because we didn’t have the kinds of materials needed to build prototypes,” he says. “In the future, students in this course will get a more complete design experience.”

Frakes, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, won the Centennial award in only his first semester at ASU. Only two junior-level university faculty members are selected for the award each year.

Winners are chosen by students through a selection processed managed by the Associated Students of ASU, comprised of leaders of the university’s Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate and Professional Students Association.

The award is bestowed on faculty members who student leaders judge to “embody the ideals of service to students inside and outside the classroom.” It’s funded through a university endowment.

“Rarely has this award been given to an engineering faculty member, especially those who teach courses that demand a lot from students, like the design courses,” says Jerry Coursen, associate chair of the bioengineering department, who co-teaches a design course with Frakes. “It’s even rarer for a first-year faculty member to win this award.”

How does Frakes keep his students on track through the challenging course work?

“My teaching philosophy boils down to working really hard at preparing for my classes,” he says. “When the students see you putting in the effort, and see that you care about teaching them, most of them are going to respond by raising their level of effort.”

Beyond effort, Frakes also brings lessons from his varied range of educational and entrepreneurial business experiences.

His degrees from the George Institute of Technology encompass electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and bioengineering.

He co-founded a high-tech company and worked as its chief technical officer, managing a team of engineers and research scientists to develop imaging and video processing solutions for the military and biotechnology industries.

He worked on Wall Street as a quantitative analyst, served as chief risk officer of a $1 billion hedge fund, and conducted research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

He is currently working on medical imaging and surgical planning research projects with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, The Barrow Neurological Institute and the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

Frakes is cementing a relationship with Mayo Clinic to help provide his students a taste of real-world experience in the classroom. So far, he’s had Mayo Clinic leaders present design challenges for students to take on as class projects.

“It was rewarding to see the students come up with ideas that got the Mayo people excited,” Frakes says.

He’ll expect even more from his students now that they will have funds from his teaching award to take their projects from the idea stages to prototype development.

“I think they’ll be able to design some really cool things,” he says, “things that might someday actually change the world.”

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Fulton Schools

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