2024 F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award: Kelly Keselica

2024 F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award: Kelly Keselica

On April 22, Engineering lecturer Kelly Keselica was teaching her students theories in engineering when a surprise knock came to her classroom door. After President Brian Sandoval entered to present her with the 2024 F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award, her students and colleagues erupted into cheers, proud of her accomplishment and the work she’s done to be selected for this distinguishment.

“In my time working alongside Kelly, I have been continually impressed by her dedication to teaching and her ability to inspire students,” Candice Bauer, assistant dean of the College of Engineering, said. “Kelly has a natural talent for making students feel seen and heard, which fosters a positive learning environment and helps students achieve their full potential.”

Keselica was not only chosen for her incredible ability to teach, but also for her contribution to the College of Engineering and the University through student advising for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), as well as dedication to her colleagues. With a lifelong passion for education, she’s successfully helped graduates navigate life after college and prepare them for engineering on a global scale.

In an interview with Keselica, she dove into her career and explained how she’s been able to inspire students even in large classrooms.

You’ve proven your ability to engage large lecture halls full of students in complex learning. What have you learned works and what doesn’t work in these large group settings?

“Working in large groups can be tough! My priority is to provide engaging activities to supplement learning, even if there are 450 students in a lecture hall. These activities can be as simple as using candy or food to illustrate basic concepts. They can also be complex—like constructing mechanical hands—if you prepare kits in advance. Either way, I always try to make learning interesting and fun.”

While you’re often teaching big classes, you were granted the Tibbitts award in part for your ability to connect with students on an individual level. How do you ensure your students feel seen and heard in the classroom and why is this important to you?

“In my smaller classes (<100 students), I start by learning their names. I also ask each student to schedule an individual 15-minute meeting with me so we can get to know each other. I think it’s easy for students to feel like they are ‘just a number,’ but I think it makes a difference when they are treated like unique individuals.  In my larger classes (800+ students), we train a staff of student mentors to do the same thing and make the class feel more personal.

“Making students feel seen is important to me because I want them to feel like they aren’t alone. It’s always helpful to know someone is rooting for you, and I think it makes students more eager to learn and succeed.” 

You are the faculty advisor for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This past year you hosted the regional competition where students from multiple states came to Reno to compete in competitions like bridge building, writing papers, giving presentations, and constructing a canoe made from concrete. How does serving in this role with ASCE and these competitions inform your teaching pedagogy?

“Being a part of ASCE is one of my favorite jobs on campus! I think participating in any extracurricular activities helps students learn important life skills. Actively advising a student club allows me to learn from the students. I am better able to ‘meet them where they’re at’ with things like technology, communication, and important societal issues.” 

What does being named an F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Awardee mean to you?

“This is a major achievement for me. I always want to do the best job I possibly can with every role I take on. I genuinely try very hard to make my classrooms a fun, engaging, and inclusive environment for students. It is wonderful to see that I am achieving those things.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the College of Engineering (specifically Ann-Marie Vollstedt, Candice Bauer and Indira Chatterjee) for being such great role models and providing an amazing support system. I also want to thank Aaron Hill and the folks with the ASCE ExCEEd Teaching Workshop for providing excellent coaching and allowing me to develop my skills as an instructor.”

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