Robert Williams, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology, challenges his students to move beyond the “what” and explore the “why.”

“I know that Rob challenges his students to solve food safety problems and to develop critical thinking skills,” said Professor Joe Marcy, head of food science and technology within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Williams is not only the recipient of this year’s Certificate of Teaching Excellence award; he also earned a 3.8 rating out of a possible four points from his students. He was presented his award during the college’s commencement ceremonies on May 12, 2012.

Williams, who has been teaching for nine years, is credited with keeping the department abreast of current issues and technologies and creating an online class, “Good Agricultural and Manufacturing Practices.”

“I do not believe that teaching is confined to the classroom,” Williams said. “It is my goal that each graduate student contributes to the development of his or her research program and perform projects independently.”

Govindaraj Dev Kumar, a graduate of Virginia Tech, said the online class was the inspiration for his dissertation project.

“The best feature of the class was that it encouraged students to think and analyze problems instead of just introducing them to facts,” said Dev Kumar, who completed his master’s and Ph.D. under the guidance of Williams.

“Williams’ ability to inspire students and metamorphosize them into thinkers and scientists is a gift,” Dev Kumar said. “I am truly thankful to have Dr. Williams as my advisor.”  

Ashwini Benedict, an alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in biology, noted the depth of Williams’ experience and knowledge.

Before Benedict’s final semester at Virginia Tech, he was still unsure about his career path. That changed in the spring semester of his senior year when he took Williams’ food microbiology course. Williams’ lectures inspired Benedict to pursue graduate studies in microbiology and infectious diseases at George Mason University.

“Dr. Williams presented the material with ease and humor in a way that captured the students’ attention, allowing us to effectively absorb the concepts,” Benedict said. “For example, he would associate his personal anecdotes with the subject matter, relating normally abstract concepts to daily life which made them more universally appealing.”



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