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Published May 16, 2022
University of Wyoming students in Jianting “Julian” Zhu’s “Fluid Dynamics” class -- considered one of the toughest for engineering majors -- once gave him an unsolicited standing ovation on the last day of class. One student who flunked that same course still gave Zhu a high teaching evaluation rating, saying he was embarrassed because Zhu was an effective teacher, and his failure was all his own.
Zhu, a professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, is one of three recipients of the 2022 John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award. The award was established in 1977 by businessman John P. “Jack” Ellbogen to “foster, encourage and reward excellence in classroom teaching at UW.” This year’s other recipients of the award are Marci Smith, a senior lecturer in the Division of Kinesiology and Health, and Man-Chung Yeung, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
“Most teachers spend all of their time and effort on competence and craft, so there is little time left for caring -- the most important ingredient in the recipe,” says Anthony Denzer, head of the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, who nominated Zhu for the honor. “Dr. Zhu is one of the few people I know who truly gets this and behaves this way. Of course, he excels in competence and craft, but caring is his real superpower as a teacher.
“In short, he’s not just a superior teacher, but he’s also a leader in teaching excellence,” Denzer adds. “In my view, that’s what the Ellbogen Teaching Award is all about.”
Vinaya Palecanda, a UW senior majoring in civil engineering, has taken three courses with Zhu and praises him for his organized classes and effective teaching style. She also notes Zhu’s dedication outside of classroom hours to help students struggling with the course material.
“When COVID hit and classes were moved online, he would record two lectures -- one while he was teaching on Zoom and another short recap of the lectures for those of us who wanted a review,” Palecanda says in her nomination letter. “In every one of his classes, he has held consistent office hours and has been extremely flexible when students couldn’t make it to the assigned time, even extending his office hours on Zoom to evenings before the exam.”
Zhu, who serves as his department’s graduate program director as well as the director of the Center for Computational Hydrology and Hydrosciences, came to UW in 2012.
His engineering research interests include vadose zone, groundwater and stochastic hydrology; hydrological modeling; contaminant transport; uncertainty and climate change; ecohydrology; and soil physics. He is the technical editor of the Soil Science of America Journal.
Zhu received his Ph.D. in civil engineering from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada; his master’s degree in fluid mechanics from Peking University in Beijing, China; and his bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. He did his postdoctoral work in civil engineering at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.