Evelyn Hu, Tarr-Coyne Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been named a Harvard College Professor.

Hu received the prestigious appointment from Michael D. Smith, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. She is one of five Harvard faculty members to receive the professorship this year. Presented annually since 1997, the professorship, which has a five-year term, recognizes exceptional educators by providing support for research or academic activities.

“I am tremendously honored to receive this award. One of the many things I have loved about being at Harvard is that this is an environment that values the importance of teaching and provides us with the encouragement and resources to become the best teachers we can,” Hu said.

Though she began her career as a researcher at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Hu had always felt drawn to an academic environment. Her passion for teaching inspired her to move across the country for a faculty position at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1984. Since returning to the East Coast to join the SEAS faculty in 2009, she has enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with some very passionate and talented undergraduate and graduate students.

One of her favorite classes is “Introduction to Electrical Engineering” (ES50), which she has co-taught with Marko Loncar, Tiantsai Lin Professor of Electrical Engineering. As a general education course, ES50 provides a broad overview and perspective of the field and gives students a chance to design and build their own devices, yet it attracts undergraduate students who have chosen a range of non-engineering and even non-science concentrations.

“I appreciate the opportunity to work with such talented students who are not necessarily focused on science and engineering as ultimate careers, but who may be intrigued by the beauty, applicability, and tremendous power of engineering.  These students are willing to take the chance and dip their toes into a discipline that may be very different for them,” she said. “I feel privileged to be able to teach that course and give those students a chance to experience the excitement and transformative capabilities of engineering.”

For Hu, the most challenging part of being an educator is creating excitement about a topic, and immediacy in communication, even in courses with large enrollments. In such large classes, she keeps students engaged by developing hands-on projects and providing small-group mentoring sessions. Hu, whose research interests include electromagnetics and nanoelectronics, materials science, and nanophotonics, also strives to highlight cutting-edge innovations during her lectures.

“Bringing the excitement of new ideas, new experiments, and new materials to the classroom allows students to realize that what they are learning is not just ‘old,’ perhaps not–so-relevant knowledge, coming from a textbook,” she said.

Ultimately, she feels that being an effective educator boils down to seeing every class through the eyes of a student.

“Never take anything for granted,” she said. “Even in a course that you know inside and out – find the seed of excitement in the material.”