Professor Lana Yarosh honored with Morse-Alumni Award

Computer Science & Engineering associate professor Lana Yarosh has received the 2020-21 Horace T. Morse - University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

Each year since 1965, the University of Minnesota has recognized a select group of teachers for their outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. This honor is awarded to exceptional candidates nominated by colleges in their quest to identify excellence in undergraduate education.

“Lana has demonstrated a truly exceptional commitment to undergraduate education, engagement, and research excellence,” lauded CS&E department head Mats Heimdahl. “She stands out even within a department that has always deeply valued undergraduate education and includes several former Morse award winners.”

Yarosh’s is one of the department’s experts in human computer interaction (HCI). Since joining the University in 2014, she has strived to engage and improve the experience for undergraduate students through the quality and innovation of her classroom teaching, her commitment to mentoring undergraduate student researchers, and her efforts to broaden participation in computing.

Innovation and success in the classroom

Professor Yarosh has an impressive ability to engage students in her classes in authentic, active learning experiences and hands-on, community-engaged projects. Her classroom teaching is excellent, as can be seen through student evaluation materials.

“It is always a joy reviewing Lana’s teaching performance every year,” said Heimdahl. “Her quantitative scores are consistently stellar, but the written comments are even more telling and paint a picture of a truly gifted educator.”

In recent semesters, students have shared that:

  • Lana explained things extremely well…and she made class so much fun…
  • …by far my favorite professor…
  • Lana is a wonderful, fun, and insightful professor who clearly cares about her students.

Students have been specifically favorable about the specific pedagogic strategies that Yarosh implemented in her classroom to achieve engagement:

  • The flipped lecture format worked really well…the in-class work was very effective at actually getting us comfortable with applying what we’ve been learning…
  • She teaches clearly and provides us with concrete milestones and great feedback…
  • She was always happy to share her advice and wisdom with each project group and she was excited about every project.

She is not just well liked by students in the classroom; Yarosh is also a leader in the Computer Science & Engineering department and frequently shares effective strategies during department faculty meetings, university-wide panels, and workshop talks. Her style and innovations have been adopted by her fellow CS&E faculty, as the improvements to student experience and learning outcomes have been clear and compelling.

Mentoring the next generation of researchers

Yarosh also has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to young researchers in her lab. She has done an exceptional job at integrating undergraduates into her world-class research program.

“Lana engages more undergraduates in research in a single semester than most other faculty members do over the course of years,” Heimdahl said. “To date, she has advised over 60 undergraduate student researchers in a variety of capacities, which is truly remarkable, given that she has only been at the University for six years.”

She has created a sustainable and scalable pipeline for engaging over a dozen undergraduate students every year. Despite the scale of her undergraduate research program, her students receive a substantial amount of hands-on mentorship and guidance. Many of her students have successfully published their work at top-tier venues in the field, and two of her recent undergraduates have been recognized with prestigious Computing Research Association Undergraduate Researcher awards.

Her methods and successes in mentoring undergraduate students in research are well-known among the computer science faculty. In fact, several other faculty members, including previous Morse Award winner Professor Dan Keefe, have wholesale adopted her approach for mentoring undergraduate students in their labs.

Dedication to broadening participation in computing

Professor Yarosh is passionate about equity, diversity, and inclusion in computer science and strives to attract and retain undergraduate students from underrepresented groups.

For example, her lab enrolls women and underrepresented minority students at rates representative to their population, which is remarkable in any computer science department. This has been accomplished by a concerted effort to engage with diverse student groups (such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers), delivering talks and keynotes at relevant events (including the Women in Computing annual conference), and individually reaching out to promising diverse candidates in entry level courses.

This kind of personal outreach is critical to engaging undergraduate students who otherwise would not think of doing computer science research. Once these students are part of her lab, Yarosh connects them with meaningful mentorships and provides support to make sure that they have everything they need to succeed.

“The department is truly grateful for Lana’s work and we hope to emulate her successes to address the persistent lack of diversity in computing education, research, and industry,” shared Heimdahl.

Associate Department Head and fellow HCI professor Loren Terveen agrees. “She already has done so much in her career in the area of undergraduate education that has inspired students – and her peers! – and has brought credit to the University. It is only fitting that the University recognize her contributions through the Morse Award.”

Yarosh will now be conferred the title “Distinguished University Teaching Professor” and become a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers (ADT), a forum which celebrates teaching excellence and fosters the continued improvement of teaching and learning at the University of Minnesota. With this recognition, she joins fellow CS&E faculty Dan Boley, Chris Dovolis, Maria Gini, Mats Heimdahl, Dan Keefe, Joe Konstan, and Shashi Shekhar as ADT members.