Mark A. Davenport was presented with the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL)/BP Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award at the Georgia Tech Faculty Staff Honors Luncheon, held on April 22 at the Student Center Ballroom. Davenport is an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).
Since joining Georgia Tech in 2012, Davenport has taught courses ranging from introductory undergraduate courses in signal processing and in probability and statistics, to advanced graduate courses that he has developed on subjects like statistical machine learning and harmonic analysis. These courses have varied in size from 15-20 students to as many as 100 students.
Davenport teaches courses covering theoretical topics and which are known for being mathematically rigorous. These subjects are known for invoking anxiety, or even dread, in many students, yet he consistently achieves the extraordinary feat of receiving teaching ratings in the 4.8-5.0 range from his students, according to ECE Associate Professor Justin K. Romberg. Much of this success can be attributed to his incorporating in-class activities where students work together to solve problems and reflect on their own about what they have learned through writing assignments.
Using this “semi-flipped” classroom format allows students to get a deeper and quicker understanding of the material and provides Davenport with feedback about concepts with which the students are struggling. As a researcher, he uses the electronic platform used for these in-class problem sets to collect data that help him and colleagues in cognitive science to understand better how students learn and retain mathematical concepts, according to ECE Associate Professor Christopher J. Rozell.
And students heartily endorse these methods. They say that Davenport has a knack for breaking down a difficult concept into its simplest parts while still respecting the integrity of the problem, all while making difficult subjects fun and enjoyable.
“It wasn’t just his ability to simplify, but [his] using different approaches and methods to appeal to various learning types,” said a student from ECE 3077–Probability and Statistics for ECEs.
“The way the professor interacts with students is truly unique. [He is] very approachable and friendly. [He has] an exceptional ability to impart enthusiasm about the topic to students (like me who had no prior background in the area), and promote further learning,” said a student from ECE 6254–Statistical Signal Processing and Analysis.
“Professor Davenport is very talented and made great efforts to adapt to what worked best for the students. He was fun and made a difficult subject enjoyable,” said a student from ECE 2026–Introduction to Signal Processing. “For instance, ‘Fourier Analysis’ sounded treacherous at first, but after his explanation, I was like ‘Oh…that’s it?’”
Davenport has already received multiple honors for his efforts, including the 2015 Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Also in 2015, he was awarded the Richard M. Bass/Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Teacher Award, which is determined by a majority vote of the ECE senior class. He was also selected to participate in the Class of 1969 Teaching Fellows Program in 2014. As a part of this program, Davenport studied a variety of strategies for effective teaching and worked to incorporate various forms of improved student feedback into the graduate courses he teaches at Georgia Tech.
Beyond his classroom activities, Davenport advises six Ph.D. students and has worked with nine undergraduate students on independent research projects, including multiple President’s Undergraduate Research Awards Program recipients. Many of these undergraduate researchers took his classes and sought out ways to work with him further. Davenport is also a faculty associate for the Georgia Tech Grand Challenges Program, where he mentors a larger group of students from various majors, and is involved with outreach initiatives with the East Lake Foundation and Atlanta’s Charles R. Drew Charter School.
“Research universities exist in our society is to create knowledge. As a professor, I think that my job is to help guide students in acquiring the knowledge and skills that they need to become knowledge creators themselves, whether that takes place in the classroom, in a research setting, through mentoring programs, or in online forums,” Davenport said. “While there are many demands on a professor’s time, I believe that all of these activities ultimately boil down to the central role of teaching, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Last revised November 14, 2016