Engineering’s Janowski honored for lifetime achievement in teaching

Janowski, known as Dr. J, has educated and motivated students for 23 years, teaching classes from introductory freshman engineering to doctoral courses.
janokowskiGregg M. Janowski, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has won the 2013 Ellen Gregg Ingalls/UAB National Alumni Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Teaching.

“I was shocked to receive the award,” Janowski said. “It’s exciting to have affected enough students positively that they thought it was worthwhile to support my nomination.”

Janowski, affectionately known as Dr. J, has educated and motivated students for 23 years, teaching classes from introductory freshman engineering to doctoral courses. He has directed graduate research and mentored or co-mentored 11 Ph.D. students. Six are faculty at a university, including two at UAB.  

“Gregg is a committed educator,” said Iwan Alexander, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering. “He is appreciated by the faculty and the students as a master teacher.”

In a recent exit survey, 80 percent of graduating seniors in the program named his Materials Engineering Laboratory II class as their favorite. Janowski’s student course evaluations are among the best ever seen, with three perfect “excellent instructor” scores out of his last five classes, according to J. Barry Andrews, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“Dr. Janowski is a superb teacher who has a dramatic impact on the students in his classes,” Andrews said. “He is simply one of the very best instructors at UAB.”

Janowski began his career at UAB in 1990 as a tenure-track assistant professor, when most classes included some students who were older than he was. In 1999, he received the UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching for the School of Engineering. He has served as an undergraduate program director and a graduate program director, and he has been responsible for accreditation activities at the department and school levels. Earlier this year, Janowski was named associate provost for assessment and accreditation.

Colleagues and former students consistently praise Janowski’s dedication as an instructor and academic adviser, which has allowed him to influence many students’ career paths. The involvement of faculty in Janowski’s own life inspired the dedication that routinely had him meeting students after hours and on weekends to help them reach academic goals.

“A university faculty member’s responsibilities for teaching, research and service are not an 8-to-5 job,” Janowski said. “We are supposed to work to help our students be successful, which means we also have to keep learning.”

A quirky sense of humor, passion for education and hunger for improvement make Janowski unforgettable to those who know him.

Carolyn Norwood, an alumna from the class of 2010, credits Janowski with changing her career path from biomedical engineering to materials science and engineering, as well as influencing her decision to attend graduate school.

“Dr. J is my mentor, my academic hero and the standard by which I judge all other professors,” said Norwood, now a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

One of many inspirational stories Norwood recalls is when Janowski scolded a student for his ambivalence toward non-engineering classes and challenged him to earn a 3.5 GPA. In exchange, Dr. J would share his senior portrait, complete with long, curly hair. The student made the grades and Janowski shared his 1970s-era photo.

“Students come to us in different stages of life with diverse skill sets,” Janowski said. “Seeing them develop is the fun part. Teaching and interacting with the students certainly has a tendency to keep you young.”