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Professor Alison Olechowski (MIE, ISTEP) designed TEP1502: Leadership in Product Design for the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering and recently revamped MIE459: Organization Design. (photo courtesy of Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education)

Professor Alison Olechowski (MIE, ISTEP) has received the Cheryl Regehr Early Career Teaching Award. She is one of four instructors from across the University of Toronto community recognized for their exceptional commitment to student learning, pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation. 

“This is such an honour,” says Olechowski. “Teaching is hard but deeply satisfying work, and it is so meaningful to be recognized in this way.” 

An instructor in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education & Practice, Olechowski recently revamped  MIE459: Organization Design and designed TEP1502: Leadership in Product Design. 

“My teaching philosophy is centred on igniting passion and instilling confidence in all of my students,” says Olechowski, who received the Dean’s Spark Professorship and a Technology Enhanced Active Learning Fellowship in 2018, the MIE Early Career Teaching Award in 2021 and U of T Engineering’s Early Career Teaching Award in 2023. 

“I’m mindful of the fact that the ways we once taught engineering concepts weren’t necessarily accessible to everyone, and I know there are interesting and cool pathways to engage all types of learners.” 

She also credits her mentors, departmental staff and colleagues from MIE and ISTEP for their support and for helping her become an effective and intentional teacher. 

“I owe a great deal to my teaching assistants and co-instructors. Teaching is a team effort, and I’m grateful to work with each of them,” she says.  

Olechowski’s research in engineering education also aligns with her teaching practices.  

She is a frequent presenter at annual conferences for the Canadian Engineering Education Association and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) — twice winning best paper awards from the ASEE. And she is currently collaborating with computer-aided design (CAD) education researchers across the country on initiatives to make CAD education more accessible and inclusive. 

As an expert in engineering design, Olechowski is investigating ways to improve how engineering professionals collaborate and participate in the design process.  

“There is a human side to engineering, and I want all my undergraduate students to consider this,” says Olechowski, who supervises the Spark Design Club and the U of T Aerospace Team, and serves as a mentor for the Girls SySTEM Mentorship program.  

For Olechowski, the best part of being an instructor and mentor is learning more about her students. 

“My students are always asking really cool questions, and I like hearing about the things that interest them: including the hobbies they’re engaged in, the clubs they’re a part of and the summer jobs they’re taking on,” she says. “At U of T, we attract such smart, interesting and unique students. It’s a pleasure getting to know them.” 

“At U of T Engineering, one of our key priorities is to ensure we develop 21st century engineers by creating more inclusive spaces that enable students to sharpen their skills and acquire new knowledge,” says Christopher Yip, Dean of U of T Engineering. 

“Professor Olechowski is helping us live up to this promise. Through her commitment to making engineering education engaging and accessible for all, she is creating space for every student to succeed. On behalf of the entire Faculty, congratulations to Professor Olechowski on this well-deserved honour.” 

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