Stephen Martin, associate professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been named the W.S. Pete White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The W.S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education was established by American Electric Power to honor Pete White, a 1948 graduate of Virginia Tech, and to encourage new interest in the teaching of engineering and to improve the learning process. Recipients hold the chair for two years.

A member of the Department of Chemical Engineering since 2006, Martin’s scholarship focuses on the fabrication, structure, properties, and applications of advanced materials — with a particular focus on energy efficient separations, water purification, and carbon capture. 

But his dedication and innovation as a teacher has distinguished his career.

During the pandemic, Martin epitomized the Hokie spirit of innovation by developing and delivering an online version of the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory. His dedication made it possible for 60 students to complete this degree requirement on time, despite a historic disruption of higher education.

Chemical engineering Unit Operations Laboratory
The summer unit operations lab is a rite of passage for Department of Chemical Engineering students. The pandemic disrupted this degree requirement, but Associate Professor Stephen Martin found ways to create a virtual learning experience that resonated with students. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Former chemical engineering department head David Cox said Martin’s effort was “the single most impressive feat of teaching I have seen in my 35 years at Virginia Tech.”

While students in general reported challenges with remote learning in 2020, the flipped classroom model Martin developed for the large entry-level course Mass and Energy Balances was popular. Many reported positive experiences due to his accessibility, support, and course materials. The class also incorporated global competency modules designed to spur critical thinking on the contexts and ethical implications of chemical engineering work at a time when students couldn’t travel.

His teaching innovations stand out as examples of adaptation during the pandemic and have become models for hybrid teaching, flipped classroom design, virtual and online laboratory learning, and incorporating global competency into technical courses.

Martin has a long list of other recognitions. He won a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service in 2016 and the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012. Martin has been voted Best Chemical Engineering Professor three times, and he has contributed to new programs and course development in both hybrid, online, and international educational opportunities.

In addition, Martin helped to initiate an exchange program with the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany — a program that, when combined with a parallel program at the Technical University of Denmark, has sent the second-largest group of engineering students overseas  during the past decade. Only the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, which serves the general engineering population, is larger. 

Martin received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Share this story