Williamson and Caggiano again garner teaching awards
Professor David Williamson, now a full-time member of the ORIE faculty, has won one of two Sonny Yau ’72 teaching awards for 2013. Senior Lecturer Kathryn Caggiano has won the other. Williamson previously won the award in 2007 and Caggiano in 2010.
“This was my favorite course here at Cornell,” said a student about Caggiano’s Spreadsheet-Based Modeling and Data Analysis course, “as it took ideas and concepts from other courses I have taken, and brought them all together to put them to practical use.”
“Lectures were fantastic,” said a student about Williamson’s Graph Theory and Network Flows course, [with] “very clear explanation of all of the concepts, and top-notch board work (which is more difficult to achieve than it sounds).” “I think this is a very hard class, but it has been taught very well,” a student said about Williamson’s Mathematical Programming.
A remarkable array of courses at all levels
Williamson has taught a remarkable array of courses at all levels, including an introductory Engineering Applications of Operations Research; intermediate courses such as Intermediate Web Design, Topics in Web Programming and Design, and Mathematical Methods for Information Sciences; senior courses such as Discrete Models; and graduate level courses Approximation Algorithms and the aforementioned Mathematical Programming and Graph Theory and Network Flows.
He receives very high teaching effectiveness ratings for everything he teaches, with a remarkable 4.92/5.0 for Approximation Algorithms. Until recently, Williamson had a split appointment between ORIE and Computing and Information Sciences, but recently moved fully into ORIE.
Students comment that Williamson makes “an effort to learn the names of all of his students and then make continuous efforts to keep the class involved by asking questions and encouraging thinking aloud” and that “he is very clear and very good at teaching, and is also very good at listening to students.” One said “Professor Williamson makes such an effort in his lectures and his genuine enthusiasm was contagious. I am now so invested in this subject and can’t wait to continue with it.”
An undergraduate commented that “I went to his official office hours only twice, but each time he was extremely helpful and does not mind going over certain concepts more than once if I am not understanding it. It was really encouraging and was one of the main reasons I decided to pursue graduate studies in Information Science.” Another said “the instructor knows how to teach like none other here at Cornell. He can grab a lecture hall’s attention pretty easily.”
Williamson’s graduate Approximation Algorithms course garnered comments such as “the lectures were awesome,” “this course was great,” and “the lectures are extremely clear, well-prepared, and interesting!” The text for this course, co-authored by Williamson and ORIE’s Acheson/Laibe Professor of Business Management & Leadership Studies, David Shmoys, has been called “a beautiful example of an ideal textbook,” and recently won a prize as the best contribution to operations research and the management sciences published in English.
Spreadsheets and professional development
Caggiano, who is the Associate Director of ORIE in charge of the Master of Engineering program, is particularly known for designing and teaching the especially popular Spreadsheet-Based Modeling and Data Analysis. “Professor Caggiano is an expert in presenting complex ideas in a clear and concise way,” said one student, who added “I wish she taught all of my introductory engineering courses.” The spreadsheet modeling course is so popular that it has an annual waiting list of 20-25 students due to limited lab capacity, so Caggiano also teaches a short non-credit version prior to the start of classes in January.
Caggiano also co-developed and co-teaches an intensive week-long program in professional development for Master of Engineering students, called MEng Connect. Its existence is testimony to her pedagogical instincts: she learned from employers and observed directly that many M.Eng. students need essential professional skills to augment the rigorous technical work that ORIE’s M.Eng. program entails, and decided to develop the MEng Connect. Students think very highly of the program - average overall ratings have increased every year, with students agreeing with an average score of 4.54/5.00 that “this program should be given every year to new incoming M.Eng. students.”
About Caggiano’s work, former ORIE Director Adrian Lewis wrote “She works tirelessly on behalf of the M.Eng. students: building a class of 80-90 from among more than 900 applications, greeting and orienting those who come, teaching them in the classroom and counseling them in her office, developing projects and assigning students to them, helping students find employment, handing them their diplomas, and keeping in touch with them as alums.”
Caggiano’s teaching philosophy is spelled out in an online interview. “Focus on quality of outcomes rather than quantity of material,” she advises new faculty. “People are not going to hire students for the amount of material they know, they are going to hire them for the quality of work they can do.” According to Lewis, “Caggiano is unabashedly devoted to preparing students for the professional arena.” She says that “every year I get dozens of anecdotes from former students about how the skills they learned in my classes have given them ‘rock star’ status in their jobs.” One former student wrote that “talking about experiences I’ve learned from [the spreadsheet modeling class] landed me my current job.”
Sonny Yau ‘72
Sonny Yau ’72, chief executive officer of manufacturing firm Yen Sheng Factory Ltd., endowed the teaching award won by Williamson and Caggiano. As an ORIE student, Yau found that some of his professors were “able to make subjects that were not interesting to me in the beginning become very interesting,” he said. His view is that “it is both important and beneficial to students that professors value teaching ability no less than research ability.”