Distinguished, Dedicated, and Dynamic

Anne Dudek Ronan Garners the School of Engineering’s Highest Teaching Honor

When Anne Dudek Ronan signed up to attend an alumni gathering at the Cooper Union, little did she know that the event would significantly alter the course of her teaching career. There, however, she reunited with friend and fellow alum Lawrence Chiarelli, who was, at the time, serving as the interim head of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Urban Engineering. The two, who hadn’t seen each other for more than 20 years, chatted, and Chiarelli quickly realized that Ronan—who had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at Cooper Union before going on to earn a Ph.D. from Stanford—would be an ideal person to fill one of the vacancies in his department. Not only did she have the credentials to teach the required Introduction to Civil Engineering course, among others, but she had also garnered multiple honors, including a Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching from San Jose State University and an Excellence in Teaching Award from Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society, for her work as a Cooper Union adjunct professor. (She had returned to the East Coast and her alma mater after several years of living and teaching in California.) She was, as Chiarelli has written, “truly a scholar, as well as a model of academic integrity, commitment to education, and common sense.”

Once on the faculty of the School of Engineering, Ronan displayed the same commitment and devotion to her students that had earned her accolades in her previous posts. Unsurprisingly, she won their commitment and devotion in return, and this year more than a dozen of them took the time to write lengthy, formal letters nominating her for the Distinguished Teaching Award, which is given annually to a School of Engineering faculty member with an unshakeable personal commitment to student learning; an exemplary pedagogical approach; accessibility to students both in and out of classroom; and ability to develop new curricula, new courses, and new laboratory experiments.

The same adjectives—amazing, wonderful, inspiring, dedicated, passionate—crop up again and again in the obviously heartfelt collection of letters. One writer, Rachel Guinn, eloquently summed up the sentiments of her classmates, asserting, “Professor Ronan is unparalleled in her dedication to student learning…. Her rigorous and comprehensive courses have been the most challenging and rewarding I have taken throughout my time here, and her commitment to learning current engineering technologies and practices—and conveying that information to her students—is truly remarkable.” Calling Ronan one of the kindest people she has ever met, Guinn, a former teaching assistant, wrote, “I have seen her handle nearly every type of situation [that arises when dealing with students] with compassion and fairness.” Another student candidly admitted that he initially “resented” Ronan’s high expectations and her attention to even the smallest mistakes on exams and homework assignments but that he gradually came to appreciate how that approach had allowed him to learn and grow.

Ronan accepted her Distinguished Teaching Award during the 2015 commencement exercises at the Barclay Center. She has always believed, she says, that while it is important for college professors to conduct research, their primary duties must be to teach and mentor. And although she’s gratified by the certificates and awards, her most cherished mementos are the thank-you notes she regularly receives from her students.

Magued Iskander, the current head of the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering, is as effusive as any of those students in describing his popular faculty member. He recalled that he once read a student evaluation that stated, “Anne Ronan should be President of the USA.” Characterizing her as “one of the most caring, hard-working, enthusiastic, inspiring, and dedicated teachers, anywhere,” he quipped, “I too agree; Anne should be President!”