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ME assistant professor receives 2023 Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize


James Holly, Jr., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a 2023 Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP) for his project, “(Re)Politicizing Engineering Knowledge Through Racism-Conscious Engineering Instruction.”

Professor James Holly Jr., addresses his MECHENG 499: Mechanical Engineering and Racial Justice in the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building on the North Campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Wednesday morning, March 22, 2023.

The TIP honors faculty who have developed innovative approaches to teaching that incorporate creative pedagogies. The winning projects of 2023 were chosen from 36 nominations from students, faculty, and staff and fell within one of three focus areas: anti-racist and equity-focused teaching, re-activating student engagement following pandemic learning, and structures that support student well-being.

Professor Holly, Jr.’s innovative approach to teaching mechanical engineering fosters students’ acknowledgement, understanding, and rejection of the ways engineering knowledge and practice have been rooted in White supremacist epistemologies.

In his course, students explore sociopolitical and historical contexts of mechanical engineering, engage in critical inquiry, and conceptualize how mechanical engineering can be racially just. Coursework includes writing reflections, socially annotated readings, and a multimodal final project in which students analyze an engineering education or practice challenge, with respect to racial justice, and propose a feasible solution.

Professor Holly, Jr.’s students describe the course as an insightful and impactful departure from the usual curricular focus on technical skills. In the words of Mizan Thomas, a student enrolled in the course, these “lessons are integral to producing socially conscious, people-first engineers.”

This is the second time the course, developed by Holly in 2021, has been offered. He typically begins with a key question, such as: “Is technology a barrier to, a tool for, or a non-factor for racial justice?”

Additionally, Professor Holly, Jr. has co-developed a set of case studies, some of which explore innovations by Black people, such as analyzing the fluid dynamics of Elijah McCoy’s automated oil lubrication system. Others discuss the consequences of engineering projects on Black communities, like the solid mechanics of levees that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

These case studies are part of a college-wide grant to create a repository of case studies, which Professor Holly, Jr. hopes will support other faculty in incorporating the innovation into their teaching.

Read more about the projects honored with 2023 TIP awards at the University Record.

Faculty featured in this story