Aghayere: Holistic approach

Sound knowledge of his subject area. Enthusiasm. Patience. These are but a few of the qualities Abi Aghayere brings to his RIT classroom. Alone, they might make for a good teacher. Aghayere, however, is one of RIT's outstanding teachers.

“Yes! Praise the Lord . . . I won it . . . I won it!” That was Aghayere’s reaction upon learning he would be one of this year’s recipients of the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. He and other recipients will receive the award, in recognition of faculty excellence, during Academic Convocation on May 20.

“Dr. Abi is extremely deserving of this award,” says Maureen Valentine, associate professor and chair of civil engineering technology/environmental management and safety in the College of Applied Science and Technology, where Aghayere is an associate professor (he will be promoted to full professor this September). “He is an excellent, passionate teacher, respected by his students and colleagues alike. We are thrilled that his talents have been recognized by others at the university.”

In the classroom, Aghayere stresses interactive learning and the integration of theory and practice using real-world examples—many stemming from his active outside consulting work. He provides students with timely and frequent feedback, and he sets high standards for them and for himself.

“I consistently reflect on my teaching and on student learning, and I have developed a continuous course-assessment mechanism to gauge my students’ level of understanding throughout the quarter,” says Aghayere, referring to a tool he created to measure and improve student learning using ongoing assessment of “intended learning outcomes.” As a result, students derive immediate benefit from ongoing feedback while a course is still in session.

“I believe in a holistic teaching-learning approach and believe that students should be given the opportunity to develop non-technical skills—including teamwork, leadership and oral communication skills—even in technical courses,” he continues. Both inside and outside the classroom, Aghayere aims to be available, approachable, helpful and caring while serving as a mentor and positive role model. He strives to develop rapport with his students as he motivates and challenges them to learn and succeed in college and beyond.

“I view my students and myself as working towards the same goal of student success and excellence,” Aghayere says. “I view the success of my students as my success and see our alumni as ambassadors of my department and RIT. This motivates me to be the best teacher, mentor and coach that I can be. I believe my professional relationship with my students does not end when they graduate.

“Because my field deals with life-safety issues, I set high standards for my students and challenge them to work hard while helping them in every way I can,” Aghayere continues. “In and out of class, I let my knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject flow through to the students, creating in them intellectual excitement and the motivation to learn.”

Aghayere, originally from Benin-City, Nigeria, in West Africa, came to RIT in 1996. Previously, he was a structural engineer with Halsall Associates Ltd. in Toronto, a research associate in civil engineering at the University of Alberta in Canada, a teaching and research assistant at the University of Alberta, and a lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria.

At RIT, Aghayere developed the Structural Loads and Systems course and the structural design certificate program, and he pioneered the development of online courses in civil engineering technology. He serves as the faculty associate for scholarship in CAST—mentoring faculty by developing strategies to facilitate scholarship—and he chaired the CAST scholarship committee.

His own scholarship activity sets a positive example. Aghayere has written or co-written numerous papers, one of which earned him and co-author Wiley McKinzie, CAST dean, the Best Paper Award from the American Society for Engineering Education in 2003. He is co-author of a revised edition of Reinforced Concrete Design, slated to be published next year. Aghayere also serves as faculty advisor to RIT’s steel bridge and big-beam competition teams.

“For me, teaching is not what I have to do, it’s what I love to do and, by the grace of God, I will continue to seek ways to enhance my students’ learning experiences,” Aghayere says.

Since 1965, RIT’s Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching have honored and celebrated faculty excellence. Up to four awards are given each year to recipients in various RIT programs. Winners are chosen through rigorous peer review of student nominations. This year, three professors will receive the awards during the academic convocation on Friday, May 20.

The Eisenhart family, for whom the awards are named, has a long history with RIT. The late M. Herbert Eisenhart, president and board chairman of Bausch & Lomb, was an RIT trustee for more than 50 years. Richard Eisenhart continues the RIT connection, serving on the board since 1972, as chairman for six years and now as trustee emeritus.

RIT News & Events, May 13, 2005