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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Civil and Environmental Engineering News – Fall 2014

Olsen Named Reid Miller Outstanding Teacher

Karl Olsen
Karl Olsen, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, received the award for outstanding teaching faculty member in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. He holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in civil engineering from WSU and has taught in the department since 2009.

During his time at WSU, he has been active in researching new methods to provide students with the most effective learning environment. He has taught several courses in civil engineering and worked to develop the IDEX course curriculum that has direct and societal impacts. He has received several grants to improve engineering curriculum and has collaborated in teaching across disciplinary boundaries. He has also been very effective in his use of modern technology in the classroom setting.

He developed the curricula for computer applications for civil engineers (CE303) and the integrated design experience course (Engineering 420 and 421).

He established a virtual computer lab for the CE 303 class that provides students with consistent and reliable computing experience. The course has the largest enrollment in the CEE curriculum and is “arguably the most difficult course to teach,” wrote his nominator.

In the IDEX class, Dr. Olsen has blended research, design, industry, and societal aspects nicely into the teaching. The course has received rave reviews from industry as well as from the program evaluator during an accreditation visit in October 2013.

“Real engineering problems rarely look like textbook problems,” wrote one former student. “Karl’s assignments and projects reflect real-world scenarios and often have more than one solution. In order to complete such an assignment, I often found that I had to be creative and adapt my problem solving style for each new task…Karl’s teaching style provided me with the conceptual understanding and critical thinking skills that are essential in order to succeed in the engineering industry.”

One former student realized how valuable Dr. Olsen was as a professor when she was studying for the PE exam and could remember the concepts that she had learned in her fluid mechanics class.

“He once shouted out ‘Lagrangian’ and acted out what a fluid particle might experience (think water slide). His demonstration had the whole class laughing and we immediately had a visual to remind us about this definition. I will never forget that lecture.”

The Reid Miller Award was created by the college advisory board to honor Miller for his career as a faculty member and dean.