Teaching Associate Professor Mike Soltys was selected as the 2023 winner of the Charles A. Hutchinson Memorial Teaching Award, which recognizes College of Engineering and Applied Science faculty who have made outstanding contributions to teaching.
For Soltys, effective teaching is about expectations and support, with a focus on the individual student and the relationships students form with their peers.
"To me, a classroom that is buzzing means students are engaged – learning both from the teacher and each other – so the more opportunities students have to connect, the better their learning outcomes will be," Soltys said.
Integrated Design Engineering director Angela Bielefeldt said she often sees that engagement in the hallway outside Soltys’ office.
"There is often a cluster of students outside Mike’s office during office hours, interactively working problems together using the windows in the hall as a make-shift whiteboard," she said.
Bielefeldt said Soltys supports students by meeting them where they're at and guiding them past obstacles.
In anonymous comments from course feedback, students have said they appreciate Soltys' encouragement.
"He created a space where we were encouraged to collaborate on nearly every aspect of the course. The group problems helped us immediately apply what we were taught, which helped me both practice applying my critical thinking and remember the material… He made a difficult topic like thermodynamics fun," said one anonymous student.
Dean Keith Molenaar said the selection committee was very impressed by Soltys' contributions to the Integrated Design Engineering program, including the creation and revision of different courses, an overall dedication to his students, and a commitment to incorporate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into courses.
Soltys was also recognized because of his contributions to other programs, including the GoldShirt in Engineering Program and leading the TeachEngineering project.
GoldShirt provides advising, resources and community for students with excellent potential as engineers who have not had equal access to engineering college preparatory coursework. Teach Engineering, funded by CU Boulder and the National Science Foundation, publishes standards-aligned engineering curriculum for K-12 teachers and includes over 1,700 engineering lessons, activities and maker challenges to support teachers in their classrooms. They are designed to be taught by non-engineers with easy-to-follow, how-to videos being added monthly. The free collection is accessed by 3.2 million users annually.
Soltys says that he is grateful that the College of Engineering and Applied Science is willing to try innovative engineering pathways.
"I’m especially thankful to have been mentored and supported by my colleagues. All of the individuals at the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Idea Forge deserve shared credit in this award for the work they do to empower faculty to reimagine what engineering education can look like," he said.
Soltys said he also believes that, while talent is universal, opportunity is not.
"We need to recognize that some students have much larger barriers than others in their journey to an engineering degree. Educators should be constantly on the lookout for ways bias and discrimination enter their classrooms and seek every opportunity to bake justice into their day-to-day pedagogy," he said.
His commitment to supporting students as individuals is echoed in another anecdote given by an anonymous student.
"I struggled my freshman year and grew to believe I did not belong. … My deep insecurity in combination with poor grades early on led me to nearly leave engineering altogether. However, the E+ instructors were there when I needed them most. It all started with Mike Soltys' GEEN 1400 course. Today I stand as a confident engineer because of them.”
The Hutchinson Award was named in honor of Charles A. Hutchinson, a distinguished professor of applied mathematics who taught from 1918 to 1966.