Lee Wins 2015 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring


Minjoo Larry Lee, associate professor of electrical engineering, has been selected to receive the 2015 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring. Made possible by a generous gift from SEAS alum Robert W. Ackerman ’60, this annual award recognizes outstanding teaching and mentoring as evidenced by the faculty member's impact on, and involvement with, students.

Lee’s students described him as an innovative teacher whose classes were both clear and creative. For example, while the subject matter of Lee’s courses was often difficult, Lee was praised for elucidating each concept through a combination of thought-provoking questions and inventive demonstrations. In turn, the students found the material accessible, applicable to their lives, and even enjoyable.

“The fundamental concepts of electrical engineering can at first be intimidating because most parts of a circuit’s operation are not by their nature visible — at least not until you make them visible,” said Lee. “The challenge is to make electrical engineering appeal to the senses, either with music students can hear or lights they can see. And preferably not with burning electrical components they can smell.”

Lee therefore took it upon himself to find demonstrations that students could relate to. At the beginning of each new unit, for example, he would set up a simple “snap circuit” to demonstrate the properties behind the upcoming theory. He’d often then explicate concepts through complex examples that not only made the immediate concept clear but also provided connections to earlier principles to show how their knowledge had grown.

Such example applications were also noted for their diversity. In addition to simple tabletop demonstrations with a breadboard, Lee also encouraged his students to learn more about diodes by attending the LED workshop in the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design; several of the students took up his challenge and built LED t-shirts that they could wear for halloween costumes.

But he also complemented these simpler everyday applications by connecting the class concepts to his own research experiences in CMOS integrated circuits and solar cells for high-efficiency concentrator and space photovoltaics. Lee, who works at the intersection of electrical engineering and materials science, shared how his own research into the electrical and optical properties of novel micro- and nano-materials might ultimately be tailored to improve device performance or even encourage outside-the-box innovations. These concerns drive equally his projects on III-V cell integration on Si for low-cost, high-efficiency photovoltaics as well as his current work to hybridize concentrating solar power with concentrator photovoltaics — a project that received ARPA-E funding last summer.

In addition to the clarity of class lectures and assignments, students also felt encouraged by Lee’s personal care for each of his students. Many noted unique interactions that revealed Lee’s commitment to their success, such as an encouraging email sent out after a student made significant improvements or offering advice about the electrical components for a senior research project in an entirely different discipline.

“The best part of teaching at Yale is how motivated the students are,” said Lee. “There’s a palpable energy when the students here get excited about a topic, and the more they responded to the material, the more questions they asked, the more I found myself wanting to help them learn.”