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UW Crest with engineering background
April 17, 2024

Zavala honored for transformative teaching

Written By: Renee Meiller


On April 16, 2024, Dean Ian Robertson held an event to recognize engineering faculty and staff for outstanding contributions. Victor Zavala, the Baldovin-DaPra Professor in chemical and biological engineering, received the Harvey Spangler Award for Innovative Teaching and Learning Practices.

Victor Zavala
Victor Zavala

Zavala is a highly rated educator and a leader and innovator in transforming the chemical engineering curriculum. He’s transitioned the courses he teaches from “old-school” to forward-looking. In particular, in the chemical engineering process design course, he uses systems thinking to drive students’ understanding of their work in the context of a bigger picture. Zavala restructured the course to foster systems thinking through supply chains. He also introduced several programming tools that help students implement supply chain models and visualize their results, while also inclusively underscoring how to use math to address complex problems. Now, for their final projects, students leverage UW-Madison data to design a supply chain to process all the plastic waste in Wisconsin—from designing all of the supply chain processes to considering how market or policy changes affect the supply chain’s viability. In the future, he’ll incorporate molecular simulation concepts by teaching students to design solvents to recycle complex plastic food packing films.