The Department of Chemical Engineering made a strong showing at the 2023 Student Engineers’ Council Awards in February.

Associate Professor Stephen Martin won the coveted College of Engineering Sporn Award, and Alumni Distinguished Professor Y.A. Liu was named Engineering Organization Advisor of the year. Faculty are nominated and chosen by engineering students in recognition of their commitment to teaching and mentorship.

"As the president of SEC, one of the most gratifying parts of my role is facilitating student recognition of our faculty,” said Ryan Gniadek, a senior in computer science. “Dr. Martin and Dr. Liu both stood out among the nominees for the breadth of ways in which they support the student experience inside and outside of the classroom. It was an honor to recognize their support for students at our annual awards banquet.”

“The entire process is student driven and, therefore, a great representation of which faculty members have truly made a positive impact on the engineering community,” said Marcelina Krowinska, chair of the SEC Awards and Scholarships Committee. “Dr. Liu and Dr. Martin were selected from among a competitive pool of accomplished faculty.”

The Sporn Award is given annually to an engineering faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in undergraduate instruction. The award was established in 1966 and made possible by gifts from the Sporn family, as well as university alumni. The winner receives $2,000. 

Martin has taught numerous courses at the undergraduate level, including the capstone Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory, which he has taught since 2007. Recently, he has devoted his efforts to teaching the introductory Mass & Energy Balances course that all sophomore chemical engineering students take as an introduction to the major.

Martin’s commitment to rich student experiences also recently garnered him the W.S. Pete White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education. He was so named for his work during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to develop an online version of the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory. The lab is a degree requirement and rite of passage for all ChemE grads, but the suspension of in-person classes threatened to delay students’ progress. Martin’s work averted that crisis. Martin has also been the faculty advisor for the ChemE Car Team since 2016, during which time the team has consistently qualified for the International Championships and has won the International Competition twice.

Y.A. Liu wins advisor award from Student Engineers' Council
Y.A. Liu (center) won the the 2023 Engineering Organization Advisor Award in February. Photo courtesy of Student Engineers' Council.

Liu has won numerous awards related to his work with students over his decades at Virginia Tech. He is faculty advisor to the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, promoting cultural diversity on campus, and to the Virginia Tech student chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 

Under his guidance, Virginia Tech has won AIChE’s Outstanding Student Chapter Award four times since 2014 and received the AIChE Process Development Division Student Paper Award in 2020. In 2021, AIChE honored Liu with the Outstanding Student Chapter Advisor Award, selected from advisors to 380 student chapters across 54 countries.

Liu, the Frank C. Vilbrandt endowed professor, has twice been appointed as an alumni distinguished professor — a preeminent faculty appointment — for his wide-ranging contributions to scholarship, industry partnerships, classroom instruction and undergraduate research, student mentoring, and service to the discipline. He has won numerous awards and honors over his long career.