Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Nina Stark, assistant professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, for her commitment to implementing 'hands-on' teaching and educational activities in the field of coastal and marine geotechnical engineering.
As an experimental and field researcher in the field of coastal and marine geotechnical engineering, Dr. Nina Stark recognizes the importance of field experiences including active surveying for a successful career in this field of research. Dr. Stark ensures her students are prepared for their future careers; essential training steps include understanding the underlying processes, training with survey equipment and survey strategies, and experiencing the coastal and offshore surveying environment. She addresses these steps in her lectures by integrating ongoing research projects in the classroom and further by including field experiments dedicated to relevant topics such as bridge scour. These experiences are organized, managed, and carried out by students under the supervision of Dr. Stark.
One student described the careful instruction they received from Dr. Stark, and noted, “Then, she allowed us, her students, to design our own field experiment, where we decided on the problem we wanted to study (scour around a riverine structure), chose appropriate instruments to use during the experiment and their placement, executed the field experiment, collected and analyzed data, and wrote a formal report on our findings. By allowing us to conduct this experiment, Dr. Stark went above and beyond her expected teaching duties, spent significant amounts of time helping us prepare, and provided us with an invaluable experience. After taking Dr. Stark's class, I feel prepared to lead my own field experiment successfully, and I learned that I enjoy working with engineers from several areas within Civil Engineering.”
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Stark is dedicated to including students in each of her field surveys and outreach activities. This has led to graduate students surveying and working with her on projects (e.g., Yakutat Bay, AK, Herschel Island, Southern Beaufort Sea, and the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia). Despite the novelty of this field of research and the courses that are offered, more than 30 graduate students have attended her classes over the last year. Furthermore, a number of students are considering a career and have applied for jobs in the field of coastal geotechnical engineering after taking these courses.
Dr. Stark has supervised numerous students during field survey activities and research cruises over recent years. She began teaching college-level classes at Virginia Tech in Fall 2013, and has participated in the CIDER New Faculty/Early Career Teaching Certificate Program. During her time here at Virginia Tech, she has already designed and offered three new classes within the Virginia Tech CEE program, which have all been attended by 10-20 graduate students from different program areas. Colleagues have described her teaching style as natural and engaging.
One colleague witnessed the engaging approach Dr. Stark employs in the classroom, describing, “Dr. Stark brought an actual instrument into the class and at some stage she opened up the instrument and asked the students to gather around the instrument case and proceeded to ask them about the contents. She got the students to identify many of the items in the instrument case. She asked a student to dismantle the main instrument and explained various aspects of the instrument. She even explained practical aspects about transportation via air, and getting the instruments through customs. I thought that this was a very effective way to get the students interested in the class.”
In the words of one of her students, “I also admire Dr. Stark for her ability to lead her lectures in a relaxed and discussion - based atmosphere, while still providing deep technical content… Dr. Stark has a passion for the material she teaches and it is evident by her intriguing and highly informative lectures.”