UGA Engineering professor honored with Presidential Early Career Award

Joachim Walther, an associate professor in the University of Georgia College of Engineering, is among 105 professors named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professors in the early stages of their research careers.

Established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. The recipients receive the awards in person each spring at the White House.

Walther joined the UGA faculty in 2009. His National Science Foundation CAREER project, which focuses on how to improve the quality of qualitative research in engineering education, has been an instrumental part of his efforts to build an innovative, collaborative and highly interdisciplinary research program.

“Qualitative research is inherently suited to investigating the complex social settings in which engineering education and professional engineering work take place,” Walther explained. “Crucially important research topics such as underrepresentation in engineering, the study of institutional cultures and the professional formation of engineers naturally lend themselves to qualitative inquiry.”

Walther and close collaborator Nicola Sochacka, a research professional and instructor in the UGA College of Engineering, have traveled across the nation and abroad to facilitate workshops based on their framework for qualitative research quality. He is also collaborating with Shari Miller, an associate dean in the UGA School of Social Work, to explore how explicit training in empathic communication impacts engineering students’ professional formation and their preparation for addressing complex 21st century challenges.

“I feel extremely honored and grateful to receive such a high distinction for my work,” said Walther. “The PECASE award is a tremendous affirmation for my engineering education research work, its contribution to and potential for the UGA College of Engineering and also the outstanding work conducted by my amazing colleagues in the field.”

Donald Leo, dean of the UGA College of Engineering, praised Walther for his work: “Dr. Walther is a creative researcher with a unique ability to understand the connections between engineering and other disciplines,” he said. “His innovative work has the potential to redefine research in the field of engineering education. This is a very significant honor for Dr. Walther and a new point of pride for the college and university.”

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