Brunet receives Campus Award for Excellence

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By Bridget Maiellaro, ECE Illinois
April 14, 2008

  • Professor Marie-Christine Brunet teaches and is the course director for ECE 110: Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering.
  • Brunet began making improvements and revising the content for the class in fall 2004.
  • Brunet implemented support groups for women in ECE 110 and adjusted the class' structure so students work in small groups for research activities.

Marie-Christine  Brunet
Marie-Christine Brunet

Marie-Christine Brunet, ECE lecturer and chief adviser, was recently granted the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Brunet, who teaches and is the course director for ECE 110: Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering, said that continued support from colleagues and students, in addition to actively improving the course contributed to her receiving the award.

"I’ve done so many things to the class, especially over the last four years," she said. "I’ve put in a lot by trying to change it, by trying to make it better, and trying to involve students."

Brunet began revising the contents of ECE 110 when she became the course director in Fall 2004. She said the majority of those improvements were reflected in the course during Fall 2006. However, one change she is most proud of took place in Fall 2005, when Brunet implemented support groups for women in ECE 110, who usually make up 10 to 15 percent of the class.

"I see that sometimes women leave ECE for very wrong reasons, and it makes me sad," she said. "The students feel that it is really helping them because they don’t have to fear saying anything wrong, as they would in a big class. I think it’s a huge confidence builder."

Brunet and the women engineers meet one or two times a week, with those who can attend, and brainstorm about problems relating to class in a small setting.

A second updated course feature began last fall, after Brunet attended a faculty retreat in February 2007. Feeling inspired by one of the retreat’s workshops, she adjusted the structure of the class so students in ECE 110 now work in groups of four of five for research activities.

"Students are working in teams to learn how to use the library as a resource to find papers, write proposals, and figure out the different topics in ECE," she said. "It’s more interesting than just going to class, sitting and listening how great it is to use those things."

In addition to these substantial changes, Brunet said she is always trying to improve homework, tutorials, online materials, and her lectures.

Brunet prides herself on knowing a large number of her students’ names and, therefore, making class more inviting for everyone. Out of the 140 students in her class this semester, she said she can name about half.

Brunet completed all of her degrees in France, attending the University of Paris, which consists of 13 universities tied together as one. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied math in 1983 and 1985, respectfully, Brunet went on to obtain her PhD in computer science in 1989. While earning her PhD, she also worked at an IBM research center in Paris.

After obtaining her PhD, Brunet was offered a postdoctoral position later that year at IBM in Yorktown, in a group that focused on parallel machines on various projects. She eventually came to work at a research center at the University of Illinois. In 1994, the University needed someone to teach a pilot class, now known as ECE 110. Since Brunet was available, she said yes. Soon enough, she started teaching other classes, but "continued to have a soft spot for ECE 110."

"A lot of people don’t have an extreme interest in working with freshmen, but I do," she said. "I really enjoy it. I like how it’s their first year; they are trying to figure out what is going on. I like being able to help them. I also like the challenge of a big class because it’s pretty hard."

In 1998, when the ECE Department needed someone to help with advising, she jumped at the opportunity.

"It is the perfect deal of doing what I love to do. I teach and help students through advising. It’s really a blessing," Brunet said.

To be eligible for the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, faculty members must have taught at least one undergraduate course for four years prior to being nominated for the award. Teaching assistants and instructional staff are also eligible. Nominations may be submitted by faculty members, administrators, alumni, or students. ECE Professor Steven Bishop, associate head for administrative and instructional affairs, nominated Brunet, while ECE Department Head Richard E. Blahut gave his approval by signing off on the nomination.

The reception for Brunet and the other Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching recipients will be held April 29.

Past ECE recipients of the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching include G.E. Anner ('75), M.S. Helm ('76), W. G. Albright ('78), N. N. Rao ('89), Burks Oakley II ('93), Michael C. Loui ('95), Ricardo Uribe ('04), and Eric A. Dunn ('04).

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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