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Charles Dolan Receives Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award

April 29, 2013
Man with students
Charlie Dolan, a recently retired UW H.T. Person Chair of Engineering and professor of civil and architectural engineering, is the winner of the 2013 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award. Here, he works with some of his former students. (UW Photo)

For nearly 22 years, Charles Dolan taught the importance of building a solid foundation with structural integrity. And he often did it with cultural flair, citing the Sword of Damocles as a metaphor for the consequences of structural failure or quoting Babylonian King Hammurabi to demonstrate the outcome -- in the king’s words, death -- of faulty construction.

Dolan, who retired this past December as the University of Wyoming H.T. Person Chair of Engineering and served as a professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, is the winner of the 2013 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award. The Ellbogen award recognizes the long, distinguished and exemplary career of one senior faculty member who has excelled as a teacher at UW.

“A goal I had set for myself was to teach the fundamentals and practice of engineering and, at the same time, instill in the students a sense of wonder of what can be accomplished, and an understanding beyond that which occurs in textbook learning,” Dolan says.

Robert Ettema, UW College of Engineering and Applied Science dean, lauded Dolan for developing “a remarkable set of motivating, freshmen design challenges” that are used in the Introduction to Engineering course. Over the years, design challenges have included automotive safety designs, wind-energy generators, Styrofoam airplanes, and robots that could climb hills, crawl up walls and swim underwater.

“In the past decade, more than 3,000 students have participated in this challenge,” Dolan says.

Before coming to UW, Dolan first worked for ABAM Engineers Inc., in Federal Way, Wash., from 1967-1988, and was vice president of the company from 1976-1988. Dolan has been a professional design consultant since 1967. Some of his projects include the Palm Island monorail in Dubai, the original people mover guide way at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Disney World monorail in Orlando, Fla.

It is this private-sector experience that has been of great value in Dolan’s teaching, Ettema says.

“Our faculty tend to focus largely on technical skills, but Charlie truly understands that soft skills, including teamwork and communication, are every bit as important to the success of our graduates,” Ettema says.

In addition to his regular courses, Dolan taught Honors Program courses on a voluntary overload basis.

“My approach to the Honors Program is that these students have a much higher probability of being leaders in tomorrow’s society,” he says.

Duncan Harris, associate professor and Honors Program director, recalls an honors course about Gothic cathedrals that Dolan team-taught with Kristine Utterback, a UW associate professor of religious studies.

“Students built Gothic arches and flying buttresses on Prexy’s Pasture to understand how they worked,” Harris says.

Dolan came to UW in 1991 as an associate professor of structural engineering. During his time at UW, Dolan has generated more than $2.5 million in external funding, which supported undergraduate and graduate research students. Dolan has directed master’s degree and doctoral students -- an average of two graduates per year during his tenure. He also has mentored five Rhodes Scholar candidates.

Dolan was the H.T. Person Chair of Engineering at UW from 2003-2012. The first endowed chair established in UW’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, it focuses on undergraduate education. He was named a UW Top Professor in 1995, 2003 and 2010.

He received the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s Martin P. Korn Award in 2011; UW’s Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Professor for 2011; Tau Beta Pi’s Wyoming Eminent Engineer of the Year in 2009; and the American Concrete Institute’s (ACI) Arthur R. Anderson Award in 2005. He also won that group’s Delmar L. Bloem Award for meritorious service in 1998. Dolan is the only person at UW ever selected to serve the ACI’s building code committee for concrete structures.

He lectured at Cornell from 1986-1989 and was an associate professor of structural design at the University of Delaware from 1989-1991. Dolan received his doctorate and his master’s degree in civil engineering, both from Cornell University; and his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts.

“A teacher’s job is to open a door to new ideas,” Dolan says. “Whether the student passes through the door or passes by the door depends, to a large degree, on how much interest is generated on the other side. My goal has been to generate interest, push some to higher levels and bring along those who are lagging.”

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