ECE Graduate Student Nathan Sawicki recognized for outstanding teaching

Sawicki was one of 4 students in the College of Engineering selected to receive a 2017 Towner Prize for Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors.

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Nathan Sawicki, a graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been selected to receive a 2017 College of Engineering Towner Prize for Outstanding Graduate Student Instructors.

Each year, the College awards the Towner Prize to just four top graduate student instructors (GSIs) from throughout the College of Engineering. Recipients are chosen based on their exceptional ability, creativity, or innovation as an instructor, their thorough understanding of the course content, and for their remarkable dedication to student success.

After serving as an Instructional Aide as an undergraduate student for three terms, Nate assisted with EECS 216 (Signals and Systems) and EECS 351 (Intro to Digital Signal Processing) as a graduate student. Nate said he was inspired to be a great GSI because he himself had benefited from two award winning GSIs, and therefore knew what a difference they could make in a student’s understanding of the material.

He was first assigned to help teach EECS 216. When he discovered that the course was required of Performance Arts Technology students (this major is offered by the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance), he created lessons that tapped into their imaginations through their mutual love for music. He also made sure these students received the background they needed to succeed in the class, since these students are not required to take the same math and physics classes as their engineering classmates.

He moved with many of the students from EECS 216 to EECS 351 the next semester at the request of the professor teaching the course, Prof. Andrew Yagle. Nate was able to build on many of the core concepts he first emphasized in EECS 216, which allowed students to solidify their understanding of difficult concepts.

Prof. Yagle said he was able to teach many advanced topics in EECS 351 that term because of Nate’s assistance, and ranks him among the very best of his GSIs in 31 years of teaching at Michigan.

Nate’s teaching evaluations were extremely high, averaging about 4.9/5.0. Students said of him:

“Nate saved my life in this class. Awesome GSI. Probably the friendliest GSI I’ve ever had. It made office hours so much more of a positive experience to have a strong/good gsi like this guy. I appreciate all of the work and
help provided. I wish I had him as a GSI for all of my other classes.”

“Nate is a great GSI! He is easily the best GSI I’ve had in my college experience. You can tell he really cares about students understanding the material and doing well in the class. His office hours, discussions, and exam
review sessions are super helpful.”

“PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep Nate around if you can – he was extremely patient/helpful and was super proactive about establishing office hours for review, especially before the final exam. I believe I did pretty well on
the exam, and it was due in no small part to Nate’s review sessions.”

Nathan received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2015, and is completing his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. As an undergrad student, he used machine learning to create custom music processing algorithms. His songs were viewed more than 1M times on Soundcloud. He played in both the Michigan Marching Band and the Michigan Hockey Band.

In addition to his work as a teaching assistant, he had a variety of research and intern experiences. These included a summer undergraduate research experience project in the Space Systems Fabrication Lab and an internship with Thomson Reuters. He wrote a tutorial that appears in the textbook Circuits, authored by Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby.

Nathan plans to pursue a career in the field of Machine Learning and Data Science, with applications in in healthcare or finance.