Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education

2023 Gordon Prize Acceptance Remarks

Acceptance Remarks by Dr. Azad M. Madni

President Folt, soon to be Provost Andrew Guzman, Dean Yortsos, President Anderson, colleagues, family, and friends, a good evening to you all. Receiving the NAE Bernard Gordon Prize is the crowning achievement of my academic career. It is truly an honor not just for me but also for all my students, fellow faculty members, and colleagues who have been part of my journey as an engineering educator.
Many of them are here today.

I would like to thank the Gordon Prize Award committee for selecting me for this prestigious honor, and Bernie Gordon and the NAE for creating this very special award to recognize excellence in engineering education. I also thank Norm Augustine and John Slaughter for their enthusiastic support and guidance as I embarked on my journey of transforming systems engineering education.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most important figure in my journey, my father. He instilled in me the importance of education from a tender age. I have indelibly etched memories of my father routinely engaging with my teachers in elementary school not so much to inquire how I was faring in my classes but to learn about their teaching methods. That memory stayed with me and is perhaps the main reason for my fascination with education and educational paradigms.

Much of what I have accomplished as an engineering educator would not have been possible without the steadfast support of my wife, Carla, a fellow engineer, research collaborator, and, above all, my soulmate.

My personal educational perspective is shaped in part by a couple of astute observations. The first is Winston Churchill’s famous refrain, “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” The second is from Albert Camus, a French philosopher, who famously opined when asked about lecturing students, “Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people sleep.” I took these to heart and have carefully avoided the perils of traditional lecturing.

With these considerations in mind, I approached engineering education in general and teaching in particular as a joint venture between learners and instructors, with the instructor in the role of storyteller, facilitator, and guide, and with learners engaging in active learning through story-driven role play, student-led discussions, and peer-to-peer interactions.

My research had shown that storytelling principles from the entertainment arts could be combined with principles from the learning sciences to make the acquired knowledge more connected and therefore more useful. This approach works, is easily disseminated, and, importantly, is exceedingly popular in our student and employer communities.

These experiences led me to formally define the field of transdisciplinary systems engineering and the creation of TRASEE™, a new educational paradigm that reflects transdisciplinary systems engineering principles. TRASEE exploits storytelling in conjunction with the principles of the learning sciences to make learning both effective and enjoyable.

My wife, Carla, and I have designated the entirety of the $250,000 Gordon Prize money to be retained by the NAE to create the Azad M. and Carla Madni Fund for Transdisciplinary Systems Engineering. This fund is intended to support the NAE’s robust efforts through a wide variety of activities such as lectures, forums, and research with a focus on transdisciplinary systems engineering.

In closing, I’m reminded of the late NAE President Chuck Vest’s declaration, “This is the most exciting time for science and engineering in human history.” With respect to systems engineering and systems engineering education, I will say, “This is the most historic era for systems engineering and systems engineering education in recent memory.”

My sincere thanks to the NAE and Viterbi team for planning this wonderful event and to Dean Yortsos for making it all happen. Thank you all for attending! I will cherish the memories from tonight. It is said, “Life is a series of meetings and partings—meetings to create memories and partings to preserve them.” After tonight, my family and I will have a lot of memories to treasure and preserve. Thank you all once again for being here to celebrate this evening!