Campus Recognizes White for Graduate Student Mentoring


AE Prof. Scott White
AE Prof. Scott White
Aerospace Engineering Prof. Scott R. White is the 2014 winner of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring.

White will be recognized during the Celebration of Teaching Excellence ceremony on April 22.

For over a decade, White has led a large and multidisciplinary effort in developing autonomic, multifunctional materials with unique properties, including self-sensing, self-healing, and active cooling. It is through the highly successful Autonomic Materials Systems (AMS) group, centered at the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, that White has made significant impact on the educational experience of AE graduate students, as well as students from Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE), Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE), and the School of Chemical Sciences.

The multidisciplinary nature of AMS research ranges from solid and fluid mechanics to materials science and chemistry, requiring students of very different intellectual backgrounds to interact. Students involved with chemical synthesis commonly work alongside students operating testing machines for mechanical assessment.

“This constant interaction between the students in the labs has yielded a true multi-disciplinary education, where all students are intimately familiar with concepts and techniques associated with organic chemistry and structural testing,” said AE Department Head Philippe Geubelle, who nominated White for the award.

AE Prof. Scott White meeting with graduate students.
AE Prof. Scott White meeting with graduate students.
Students further interact in bi-weekly group meetings bringing together almost 50 faculty members, post-doctoral research associates, graduate students and undergraduates. White expects the graduate students to teach the rest of the group in matters of nomenclature and key concepts and their disciplines’ experimental/analysis techniques. In doing so, he impresses upon them the need to improve their communication skills through detailed presentations, three-slide “rapid-fire” talks, and one-minute “elevator talks.”

These communications skills are valuable in the outreach activities White encourages among graduate students. As examples, AMS students performed demonstrations on self-healing materials in the Wired Nextfest in 2005 at Navy Pier in Chicago, demonstrated self-healing electronics to the American Chemical Society’s Bytesize Science website, as well as produced award winning videos and posters for the Department of Energy on battery technology.

In addition to involving graduate students in innovative autonomous materials research that has led to publication in top scientific journals including Nature, Nature Materials, and Advanced Materials, White encourages students’ input for ideas to develop new bio-mimetric materials.

“The involvement of graduate students in the formulation of new research ideas and directions was undoubtedly a key addition to their education,” Geubelle said. “Having attended these presentations, I have been struck by the creativity demonstrated by the students in areas often unrelated to their specific research topic.”

In his 25 years at Illinois, White has advised or co-advised 47 graduate students, and is currently mentoring 12 graduate students from AE, MechSE and MatSE. Students who have earned their degrees under his supervision include the department head of a major university, a national laboratory group leader and a fleet chief at the Boeing Company.