Jason Kolodziej provides his students with hallmarks of an RIT education—theory and experience. The mechanical engineering professor was recently named the winner of the 2011-2012 Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, given to faculty who have taught three years or less and who foster excellence in teaching and leadership in the campus community.
Before committing to the classroom, however, Kolodziej determined that he’d immerse himself in industry first, as a way to enhance his teaching later. He worked for more than eight years at the General Motors Fuel-Cell Activities facility in Honeoye Falls, as a research engineer on hybrid electric fuel-cell vehicle power train controls and system architecture. He spent hours “in-vehicle” on the European and high temperature test tracks at GM, recording measurements, designing algorithms and developing diagnostics in rapid prototype and embedded-systems environments—research that may transform the automotive industry.
But teaching at one of the area’s engineering colleges remained on his career radar. “I knew how much emphasis was placed on career-oriented education at RIT, and I felt I didn’t have much yet in the way of field work to bring to a classroom.”
That changed after several years. He returned to teaching, first as an adjunct in RIT’s mechanical engineering technology program in the College of Applied Science and Technology, then later as a full-time, tenure-track faculty member in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering.
“It’s all about a connection with the students and really caring about how each student is managing their education,” Kolodziej says.
To him, teaching undergraduates means instructing them on fundamental engineering concepts early in their careers, preparing them for co-op experiences or mentoring the students, often through senior-design projects.
“Senior-design teams are about mentoring the students to work together on a project where they call all the shots,” he says. “Here, they lead projects and their decisions make the difference in achieving success.”
More than half of the graduate students who work alongside him on his research initiatives have come through his multidisciplinary senior-design projects. He currently has graduate research projects in electromechanical actuators for aircraft applications, fuel-cell automotive power trains and large-scale reciprocating compressors.
“The program has been a wealth of talent identification. Students who have worked on a project for two quarters are often passionate about the projects, and are ready to transition into research.”
Outside of the classroom he is the RIT Aero Design Club advisor, working with the team to build sophisticated model airplanes and compete nationally.
He also leads one of the weeklong Women in Engineering summer camp programs, working with middle-school students to increase awareness in aerospace engineering.
“This is more than ‘let’s dream up a good idea and build something.’ They get to see the full design cycle and it’s exciting,” says Kolodziej, who with his wife, Anne, make their home in Livonia, Livingston County, with Sydney, 4, and Erin, 2.
Helping students set their academic bearings means providing solid engineering theory and relevant industry applications.
“I can provide the lecture material and bring industrial perspective to the coursework,” he adds. “I like to try to work that in as much as possible. That’s what I felt I had to offer over almost anything else.”