Burlion Receive Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence

Rutgers University’s annual Chancellor’s and Provost’s Awards for Faculty Excellence honor faculty whose outstanding work has been recognized by their peers.

This year, Laurent Burlion, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering was among the recipients of the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Innovations. 

Praised for his innovative teaching practices that enhance student learning, he received a $2,500 institutional award at the end-of-year Chancellor’s Celebration of Faculty Excellence. Below Burlion shares the secrets of his teaching success

What does it mean to receive this award?

It’s an honor and a fantastic achievement. Before joining Rutgers two years ago, my teaching experience was very limited and I, therefore, spent a lot of time preparing for my first courses. I’m proud my effort has been recognized.

What led you to your fields?

First, I was an electrical engineer specializing in control theory and became a fan of aerospace applications a bit late. I discovered aerospace when I joined Onera, the French Aerospace Lab in 2010 and moved to Toulouse, France – the center of Europe’s aircraft building industry. At the time, I worked with planes or satellites. Flight is now my passion!

What most excites you about your field today?

Aerospace engineering is evolving at a rapid pace. Charles Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York City to Paris less than a century ago – so imagine for just a second what our children or grandchildren could do.

Is there an engineering device you would like to see developed in the future?

I believe the next generation of airplanes must and will be far more energy-efficient. Space exploration will also surely accelerate in the next decades. Recently the Mars helicopter Ingenuity was the first drone to fly on another plant. I’m convinced future missions will use more and more drones.

What kind of innovative approaches do you incorporate into your teaching?

I mainly use projects and active learning methods to enhance learning outcomes.

For example, I recently proposed a new international drone course between Rutgers and CenraleSupélec, as part of the University of Paris Saclay. This course is a COIL – Collaborative Online International Learning activity and was run in parallel in France and at Rutgers. The project was called DAReTeach –Drone Arenas-based Remote International Teaching – and was selected by the FACE Foundation, which supports French and American cultural exchange in the arts and education.

We used active learning methods such as project-based learning, in small tutored groups, with the students working at home on small palm-sized, harmless “Crazyflie” drones that they could program to fly in order to understand better the theory taught in the course.

How do you approach teaching?

There really is a link between my expertise in control theory and my teaching activities. In control, one uses feedback to better regulate a system. I believe we must constantly use student feedback to adapt our courses in real time. Technology is moving faster and faster and we have to keep our teaching material relevant, even if the fundamentals are the same.

Working with students is always a valuable and rewarding experience that helps me better explain and improve my own understanding of a subject, even when teaching basic concepts.

Did the pandemic restrictions prompt you to develop any new approaches to teaching?

In March 2020, my drone laboratory was shut down and international exchanges and travel were canceled. I had to find a creative way to continue working on drones and developing my collaboration with foreign universities. Fortunately, a few weeks later the American foundation FACE launched a fund to support virtual French-American collaborations like my international COIL course.

What do you most enjoy about teaching?

I love interacting with my students and doing my best to transmit my passion and enthusiasm to them.

What do you hope your students take away with them after they graduate?

Besides the theoretical knowledge acquired during class, I hope they will remember that most of the time most problems are incrementally and rigorously solved. I hope my students will think about my “step-by-step” approach, that prevents them from going too fast and being quickly stuck in a bottleneck.

Last summer, I received an email from a student who was pleased to apply what I had taught in my aircraft flight dynamics course in spring 2019 to her experience as an intern at Sikorsky.

Read more about Prof. Burlion's research HERE>>