Andrew Zangwill: Class of 1940 W. Howard Ector Outstanding Teacher Award

Strong and sustained commitment to teaching

Andrew Zangwill is the recipient of the 2017 Class of 1940 W. Howard Ector Outstanding Teacher Award. Zangwill is a professor in the School of Physics. His selection is based on his outstanding teaching record, exemplary service, and leadership.

Students praise Zangwill’s dedication, passion, and effectiveness.

He displays “great enthusiasm for, and depth of scholarship in, the subject” he teaches, says one former student. “His lectures are well-prepared and engaging. Instead of set office hours he welcomes and encourages students to ask questions any time,” another former student says. “Succeeding in his class gave me the confidence that I could actually do physics, something that I honestly doubted before,” this student says. Zangwill “cares about every student in his class,” another student says. “He wants all of us to succeed, and for those of us who were struggling, he gave extra help.”

Zangwill is unique in having taught almost all the required courses in the B.S. and Ph.D. programs, as well as all the introductory courses, says School of Physics Chair Pablo Laguna. “That’s an amazing feat not easily achieved and requiring an outstanding breadth of knowledge in physics.” 

For all the courses Zangwill has taught, his overall teaching effectiveness scores have been consistently high, averaging 4.8/5 over 31 semesters. “These scores show strong commitment to being a good teacher,” Laguna says, “not only for School of Physics students but for all Georgia Tech students.”  

From 2004 to January 2017, Zangwill was the associate chair for graduate programs in the School of Physics. “His top priorities were always the education and well-being of graduate students,” Laguna says. Among his initiatives was eliminating qualifying exams. Zangwill convinced the school by showing a strong correlation between grades in first-year classes and success in the qualifying exam, indicating that the exam adds no new information.

Physics graduate students welcomed the change. They became more engaged with their courses, they were less stressed, and they could dedicate their first summer to research rather than reviewing for the exam.

Zangwill has written two textbooks. Physics at Surfaces, published in 1988, is a graduate-level introduction to the physics and chemical physics of solid surfaces. Modern Electrodynamics, published in 2012, is a graduate-level textbook for electrodynamics.

The electrodynamics book has received rave reviews, some of which are featured in Amazon.com. “Because of its clarity and insight,” Laguna says, “this book has become the standard text not only in our school but at many physics departments throughout the country.”

Zangwill’s influence on physics education at Georgia Tech cannot be overstated. “He has permanently changed my direction as a scientist,” says one Ph.D. student. “I now confront research problems with the tools and perspectives he taught me through his lectures and textbook.

“I am glad that the Ector award for teaching exists at Georgia Tech,” Zangwill says. “We are a heavily research-oriented institution, but it’s nice to see that Tech also recognizes and celebrates faculty members who have also made a strong and sustained commitment to teaching.”

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