It wasn’t an honor Jim Vallino was expecting.
The 2010 Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching winner had been nominated for the distinction once before, but he was still quite surprised when he learned he would be this year’s recipient.
“I think I was surprised because of my reputation. I’m known as a tough instructor,” says Vallino, who has been a professor in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences since coming to RIT in 1997.
Vallino clearly wasn’t nominated because he doles out easy As. Instead, he’s respected for his unique teaching philosophy—one that requires students to share responsibility for their own learning.
“I provide students with sets of questions and the resources required to learn what they need to learn,” Vallino says. “I’m there to provide guidance along the way.”
And Vallino’s background gives him a unique sense of the skills students will need when they enter the workforce. Before coming to RIT, Vallino spent 16 years in industry including stints at AT&T’s Bell Labs and Siemens Corporate Research Lab.
“My time in industry provided a grounding for me,” he says. “I regularly bring examples from my own work experience into the classroom.”
Vallino hasn’t regretted his decision to make the leap into academia one bit.
“I enjoy teaching and I think I’m pretty good at it,” he says. “That’s why this honor is so rewarding for me—the people who have been the recipients of my mentoring appreciate what I’ve done.”
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Vallino has supervised his department’s senior projects. He coordinates each of the various projects and serves as a coach for one of them. It’s a role that he particularly cherishes.
“I really enjoy seeing what students can achieve. It’s very satisfying,” Vallino says. “Sometimes I say, ‘Wow, this team really did a good job.’ But what I really like is when a team jells, bonds together and pulls off a job that is beyond my initial expectations.”
Now Vallino is preparing to embark on a new challenge. He was recently named chair of the Department of Software Engineering.
“It’s kind of funny,” Vallino says with a smile. “I just got recognized for my teaching and now they’ve asked me to do less of it.”