G. Brymer Williams Collegiate Lecturer Susan Montgomery
“Dr. Montgomery is your mother; treat her as such.” This was the advice that 2010 Chemical Engineering alumnus Abdullah Awamleh received from an older student and close friend at the beginning of his degree. Soon, Awamleh shared the sentiment, as do hundreds of U-M Chemical Engineering students and alumni.
In addition to her excellence as a counselor, Susan Montgomery is recognized in the field as an outstanding teacher of engineering, and her contributions to Michigan Engineering have recently been honored on the university level. On April 18th, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) student chapter at U-M hosted a reception to celebrate her new title, the G. Brymer Williams Collegiate Lecturer.
Montgomery’s mission is simple: in her words, “to encourage and support Chemical Engineering and minority students to get the most out of their time at Michigan.” Fully dedicated to this pursuit, she left the tenure track in 1999 so that she could spend more time helping undergraduate students achieve goals and overcome challenges. Professor Ronald Larson, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department from 2000 to 2008, called her skills “matchless”. “Susan is, quite simply, the glue that holds our undergraduate program together,” he said. He and the current chair, T.C. Chang Professor Mark Burns, spoke of her service to the department and connection with the students at the reception.
Montgomery’s innovative teaching methods are featured in videos from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. She is a strong proponent of active learning. “You can't tell if you really understand something unless you try to do it yourself,” she said, which is why her students work on simple examples in class before they are faced with assignments. She shares her expertise in the method with 30 to 40 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers each year in her Teaching Engineering course.
“In this way, Susan is influencing engineering education nationally as these students take faculty positions throughout the country, in all engineering departments,” said Larson.
One such faculty member is Professor Leigh McCue of Virginia Tech, 2004 alumnus of the U-M College of Engineering and former student of Montgomery’s. “Susan quite strongly formulated who I am as a teacher and faculty member,” said McCue. She continues to reflect on her experiences in Montgomery’s course and lends her lecture notes to colleagues and students.
Montgomery’s accomplishments are many, from creating a CD-ROM that details the purpose and operation of various pieces of chemical engineering equipment (online version in progress) to strengthening ties with alumni, whose careers she follows with pride. Even so, students and faculty alike always come back to Montgomery’s personal touch. Both Awamleh and McCue can recount times when she went out of her way to help them. Having spent much of her youth in Peru and Nicaragua, Montgomery is particularly successful at reaching out to students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. She also takes a proactive approach to keeping students on track for graduation by reviewing their grades at the end of each semester and contacting those who seem to be struggling.
But her concern goes beyond the academic performance of her students, and she helps those who face psychological difficulties such as self-doubt, anxiety, and depression to address and overcome them. “She frequently gives up evening and weekend hours to attend to students’ needs,” said Larson.
“I am very mindful that I am continuing the tradition of caring for students that was embodied by Professor G. Brymer Williams,” said Montgomery. Williams, who retired in 1984, shared her talent for making time to help students and remembering the details of their lives. She and Burns commemorated Williams by choosing his name as the modifier to her title, and Professor Emeritus James Wilkes spoke of Williams's 68 years of service to the department.
Lian Zhu, president of the U-M student chapter of AIChE, presented Montgomery with a memory book full of photos and reminiscences from undergraduate students, and at the conclusion of the reception, the students, faculty, and staff toasted Montgomery with sparkling apple cider. “I have always felt the appreciation of my colleagues and students, but this honor is a very tangible demonstration of it,” said Montgomery.
Three named Collegiate Lecturers under new program” in the University Record.
“Student Learning Styles and Their Implications for Teaching” by Susan Montgomery and Linda Groat (pdf).