Towner Prize Award

About the Award

We look forward to announcing the 2025 College of Engineering’s Richard and Eleanor Towner Prize for Outstanding GSIs in the spring of 2025. This award honors engineering GSIs who have demonstrated innovation and excellence in teaching. Up to four $1,500 awards will be granted. This is a separate award from the Rackham Outstanding GSI award. For information about Rackham’s Outstanding GSI Award click here.

Eligibility

All engineering graduate students who served as a GSI for an engineering course during the last academic year (i.e. Fall 2023, Winter 2024, and/or Spring/Summer 2024) are eligible. Former winners are not eligible.

Criteria

GSIs selected for the Towner Prize must demonstrate the following:

  • creativity or innovation as an instructor,
  • excellence in teaching, and
  • remarkable dedication to student success.

If you are submitting a nomination for yourself or someone else, please consider the following when writing your nomination.

Creativity or Innovation as an Instructor: We evaluate creativity and innovation by examining whether the GSI provides new ways of explaining topics or engaging students with the topics. We look for explicit details about the GSI’s teaching, including examples wherever possible, and we especially value evidence of the GSI taking initiative to make a needed change.

Among other questions, we ask:

  • How did the GSI innovate on existing materials?
  • Did the GSI identify a process that could be improved? If so, how did the GSI implement the new approach?
  • How does the GSI consider their students and course / learning objectives when making updates?

Tip for nominators: Include supporting details in your nomination that show how the GSI either explained or had students engage with the topic in a new way (or both).

Excellence in Teaching: We judge excellence in teaching primarily using student ratings, which we acquire from the Office of Evaluations and Examinations. If you are aware that the GSI you are nominating does not have evaluations (or if you are not sure), we recommend bolstering your nomination with quotes from the GSI’s former students.

Tip for nominators: Whether you are nominating yourself or someone else, try to include student quotes or paraphrased comments in your nomination.

Remarkable Dedication to Student Success: To judge dedication to student success, we look for multiple sources of information about the GSI’s work. This can include direct nomination from students, quotes from students that show the dedication and impact of teaching, and details from instructors who worked with the GSI. The most successful nominations include explicit detail about how the GSI considered their students and course / learning objectives when taking actions to boost student success.

Tip for nominators: Work with others to submit nominations for the same person, and make sure each nomination includes different perspectives with specific examples.

Takeaway Tips for Nominators

  • We encourage GSIs to self-nominate, but we also highly recommend that GSIs reach out to people who can support their applications, especially students or the instructors for the course. Check in with these people a few days before the deadline to ensure that they will be able to submit by the deadline.
  • To ensure that reviewers have a full picture of a GSI’s teaching, make sure your nomination includes details and specific examples. The nomination may end up being longer than you anticipate – which is okay with us!

Selection Process

Faculty and students may nominate a GSI who fits the criteria listed above. GSIs can also self-nominate. The application and selection process will involve two steps.

Step One: Outstanding engineering GSIs are nominated for this award. The nomination forms and student evaluations will be reviewed and finalists will be invited to submit full applications. Nominators must provide general information about the GSI and answer the three questions in detail. The strongest nominations provide detailed examples about the instructors’ creativity and innovation, their teaching excellence, and their dedication to student success. Teaching evaluations will be provided by the Office of Evaluations and Examinations and therefore need not be included with the nomination.

We are interested in receiving a diverse pool of nominees with respect to such factors as gender, race/ethnicity, and engineering discipline.

Step Two: Finalists will submit a 1-2 page narrative and other materials that document their innovative teaching practices including:

  • Cover page & GSI reflective statement
  • Letter of recommendation from the GSI’s supervising faculty member. Letter should address the 3 criteria and include supporting quotes from students (when possible)

Finalists will be judged by a selection committee composed of engineering faculty, graduate students, and staff from a variety of departments within the College of Engineering and the university community. Finalists will be chosen to represent the top applicants from across the college. The selection committee will make the final decision regarding the awardees.

2024-2025 Timing

The timing for the 2024-2025 academic year is TBD.

Please direct your questions to townerprize@umich.edu