Drew Gentner Wins the 2024 Ackerman Award

For his dedication to his students and an approach to teaching that makes even the trickiest concepts accessible, Prof. Drew Gentner is the winner of the 2024 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring.

Made possible by a generous gift from SEAS alum Robert W. Ackerman ‘60, this annual award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, recognizes outstanding teaching and mentoring as evidenced by the faculty member’s impact on students. 

In their nomination letters, students described Gentner, associate professor of chemical & environmental engineering, as a teacher who creates a learning environment designed to help his students thrive. One student noted how Gentner, whose research focuses on air quality, personalizes the subject for everyone. 

“Classmates from different home countries told me about how their cities were occasionally (some more than occasionally!) too polluted to want to go out and exercise or even walk around,” he wrote. “In a normal engineering lecture, there would be no time given to discuss how the course material personally impacts you or hear the experiences from your peers.”

A non-engineering student wrote that Gentner helped her keep pace with classmates who had more experience in the subject “by taking steps to explain concepts in a simple way and through intensive problem sets where I could practice my skills.”

“My favorite part of class was the collaborative learning environment he fostered through group discussions and in-class activities,” she wrote. “I finally feel like I have a strong understanding of how air pollution works, and I gained valuable skills and confidence in my abilities.”

Gentner said he takes the interests and abilities of individual students into account when collaboratively developing their research projects and also course content. That includes encouraging them to follow their interests outside the classroom and lab. 

“Encouraging the whole student – in the classroom, across research, and in their other pursuits – is really important for the development of well-rounded students with the preparation to make great strides in the classroom, research, and their future professions, while also having a healthy work-life balance.”

Gentner fondly remembers the opportunities he had as an undergraduate student working with Prof. Kimberly A. Gray, now chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Northwestern University. The experience gave him the chance to immerse himself in a project while working with Gray, other principal investigators, and grad students. 

“That experience was formative for my own development and career, and instilled in me the type of educator and mentor that I wanted to be going forward,” he said “I’ve sought to pass that experience onto our undergraduates. It's a lot of fun to watch them grow as scientists and engineers through the interactive discovery-based process that research provides.” 

For his part, Gentner considers himself fortunate for the chance to teach at Yale. 

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to get to work with so many enthusiastic students at Yale - how cool is it to have a job where you get to educate and mentor students across both the classroom and through research?”