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Thomas Edgar Receives Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award

April 28, 2014
Man smiling
Thomas Edgar, a UW associate professor of civil engineering, received the 2014 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching Award.

As an instructor of soil mechanics at the University of Wyoming, Thomas Edgar has been known to hold up a cubic inch of soil at the beginning of each semester and tell his students he has studied the material for a lifetime, but still does not yet understand it all.

However, it appears he has understood enough.

Edgar, an associate professor of civil engineering in UW’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, received the 2014 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.

“I thought, in 2002, when I won the Ellbogen Meritorious Teaching Award, that was one of the greatest honors I could receive as a teacher,” says Edgar, who started at UW in 1981 as a lecturer. “Twelve years later, the Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award is a step up. It’s gone higher than that. It’s humbling more than anything.”

A registered professional engineer in both Wyoming and Colorado, Edgar specializes in soil and water relationships such as flow in porous media, groundwater hydrology and the design of dams. He has researched electro-kinetic remediation of soils, deformable and expansive soils, septic system leachate remediation and wellhead protection of public water supplies. He recently completed a project with the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to remediate frost heave in State Highway 70.

From 2003-10, Edgar coordinated the college’s Introduction to Engineering course that is a requirement of all freshmen engineering majors. In a typical semester, Edgar will teach one or two freshman introductory courses, a junior- or senior-level geotechnical engineering course and a graduate-level geotechnical/hydrology course. He received tenure in 1989.

When he started teaching, Edgar’s philosophy was “teach for the C’s and test for the A’s.” The goal was to get all students to understand what was being taught and then find out, through tests, who best knew the material, he says.

“Being the C student I was in college, I knew what some of them were going through,” Edgar says.

Over time, though, Edgar, through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, began to understand the various learning styles of his students and adjusted his teaching methods accordingly for his undergraduate-level courses.

“For more than three decades, Thomas Edgar has placed student learning at the front of his consideration when he teaches,” says Richard Schmidt, professor and head of the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, who nominated Edgar. “I continue to marvel at his dedication to student learning; his attempts to effectively reach every student in his class; and to emphasize the critical importance of what they should be learning to their later academic or career objectives.”

“Dr. Edgar has a wonderful rapport with people of all ages,” says David Ward, project manager in the construction division of the Wyoming Water Development Office who, as a UW master’s student, took one of Edgar’s classes. “His ability to connect with students and his talent at teaching simple/advanced concepts, are both truly superior.”

In addition to his classroom duties, Edgar organizes an annual two-day field trip to Denver for students to tour engineering offices and construction projects. Between 2009-2012, he was a technical mentor of UW Engineers Without Borders on a water delivery project in Waondo, Mbita District, Kenya.

Edgar is no stranger to accolades. In addition to the John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award he received in 2002, Edgar won the UW Excellence in Advising Award in both 1997 and 2001; was a Mortar Board Top Professor in 1985, 1990 and 2000; UW Freshman Outstanding Professor in 1998; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Outstanding Faculty Member in 1983, 1986 and 1993; and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) New Engineering Educator Award in 1987.

Edgar received his doctoral and master’s degrees in civil engineering, both from Colorado State University; and his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado.

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