Arce named Distinguished Faculty Award winner

Posted by Karen Lykins - Thursday, November 04 2010
Office of Communications & Marketing

thumb_arce_arms_smPedro Arce watches Hi-PEle in action as students collaborate on assignments.Chemical engineering professor Pedro Arce dreamed of being a college professor as a boy when working on the fields of his parents' farming community in South America, and now the dream has turned to distinction after receiving the Distinguished Faculty Award from Tennessee Tech University.

The award not only honors Arce's notable record while serving as TTU's chemical engineering department chairperson, but also points to the promising trajectory of his career. It is the highest recognition beyond tenure for a TTU faculty member.

A key criterion for the Distinguished Faculty Award recognizes faculty who have made significant contributions toward providing external recognition to the university. TTU College of Engineering Dean David Huddleston says Arce's contributions fall into three key areas relevant to the university's mission: active-collaborative learning, scholarly and technological developments, and curriculum and department leadership.

"He has embraced the broad definition of a university educator," Huddleston said.

Richard M. Felder, Hoechst Celanese professor emeritus of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University and author of the introductory chemical engineering textbook used by about 90 percent of U.S. universities, says Arce is one of those rare individuals who manages to excel at every aspect of a faculty career.

"He has disseminated his innovations extensively in national and international forums and is widely recognized as one of the world's premier authorities in engineering education," said Felder.

In educational efforts, Arce has assembled four unique systems, among other tools, for learning: the Colloquial Approach, the Coach Model of Instruction, the High Performance Learning Environment, or Hi-PeLE, and the Personalized Course Binder. These models garner national and international attention because the students, not the instructor, are at the center of their own learning and are mentored to think creatively and independently. The instructor is replaced by a facilitator of learning with highly effective coaching ability.

"The essence of his strategy is simple," said Joe Biernacki, TTU chemical engineering professor. "Whenever you replace an instructor-led explanation with a student-led activity, you've created a high-performance learning environment."

This relatively simple principle fosters a change of paradigm in engineering education, where the student drives the learning by focusing on processes rather than on end results.

In scholarly and technological developments, Arce has co-authored with his students more than 120 peer-reviewed articles, proceedings, publications and invited chapters. His efforts also have led to three patents: one in advanced oxidation processes and two pending in gel-technology; others are under consideration.

His scholarly work is complemented by his efforts in mentoring 56 students related to doctoral, master's degrees or Distinction in the Major certificates. His research and learning community comprises students from the United States, Nigeria, India, Iran, Colombia, Peru and Chile. As a mentor, Arce focuses on student's development and not on student outcomes. Thesis, papers and presentations must be only measured intimately as part of the student's success, Arce says.

"To Dr. Arce, developing the individual student as a professional, productive member of the field of chemical engineering is paramount," said Jennifer Pascal, a TTU doctoral student. "First and foremost, he cares about the well being of the student and provides constant encouragement which enhances their productivity.

"Dr. Arce is not merely a mentor for research, but also guides students in their professional lives," Pascal added. "After having worked with Dr. Arce for over five years as an undergraduate and graduate researcher, I cannot ask for a better mentor."

Under Arce's leadership, TTU's chemical engineering enrollment has more than doubled as departmental faculty have embraced and implemented his philosophies. The National Science Foundation invited him to give the keynote address for the annual meeting of Engineering Research Centers in Washington, D.C., and the Chemical Engineering Association of Argentina recently chose him for the opening plenary lecture of its bi-annual meeting. He also was the only invited member of the six four-year Tennessee Board of Regents universities to participate at its Advanced Leadership Academy.

As an administrative leader, Arce introduced several innovations including a successful concentration in biomolecular engineering and a new computational platform for learning. He's also elevated research at the undergraduate level by developing the Distinction in the Major program. All this had been accomplished through his cabinet-style leadership, where faculty, students and staff work as a team to promote student excellence and success, which are the primary focus of his leadership efforts.

Since Arce's days as a graduate student, Purdue University's Burton and Kathryn Gedge Distinguished Professor G.V. Reklaitis, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, has followed Arce's career and calls him a change agent within the profession.

"He has abundantly confirmed the promise of those early years," said Reklaitis. "It really is amazing to me that he manages to mentor a group of five doctoral students, four master's students, one postdoctoral fellow, and three undergraduate research students while also innovating in education and leading the department."

As a member of Arce's department, Biernacki echoes that sentiment.

"It is almost inconceivable to me that any faculty member can be so dedicated to teaching and learning and at the same time support a research program as deep," said Biernacki.

Huddleston says the Distinguished Faculty Award highlights Arce's passion and vision.

"He wants to bring Tennessee Tech to a place of recognition and value for the development of the future engineers as innovative agents of transformation."

The TTU Distinguished Faculty Award fits Arce very well since he envisions a national reputation with a regional emphasis for the university. He says he strongly believes that TTU must be a prime leader in technology innovation and in developing what he calls the "Creative Class" of the 21st Century.

His current goals include seeing the chemical engineering department as a national model of student excellence within a balanced approach to research and education, building consensus for a National Hi-PeLE Institute, and helping to catalyze a master plan leading to a TTU Park for Technology Innovation and Business Entrepreneurship that would attract high-tech business to TTU's area of influence.

Arce is a graduate of the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Santa Fe, Argentina, with a diploma in chemical engineering. He has both a master of sciences degree and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) and holds one postgraduate certificate in English Studies (British Council, UK) and two in Academic and Advanced Leadership (Chair Academy and Tennessee Board of Regents) in addition to a Postgraduate Research Training (National Research Council of Argentina). He joined TTU in 2003.