Jeff Andrews Wins Gordon T. Lepley Teaching Award

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

WNCG professor Jeff Andrews has received the Gordon T. Lepley Teaching Award from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

The award recognizes educators “who relate to each student and who can grow in their teaching skills, ultimately inspiring the majority to learn.” Honorees receive a commemorative trophy and $1,500, which can be used to support ECE students and increase their ability to achieve the highest level of education. The endowment honors Texas ECE Department alumnus Gordon Taylor Lepley IV. Gift funds are provided by Mr. Charles L. Brittan and Mrs. Peggy L. Brittan of Spring, Texas.

This year, the department chose two winners for the award: WNCG professor Jeffrey G. Andrews and ECE professor Surya Santoso.

The award selection committee commended Andrews for guiding his students to put theory into practice by working closely with leading research and development groups in industry.

“His classroom teaching has received rave reviews from students,” Department chair Diana Marculescu noted when presenting the award. “And [his classes] have inspired many students to study wireless communications.”

We caught up with Prof. Andrews to find out a little bit more about his thoughts on teaching and winning the award.

What's the best part about teaching to you?

Seeing a student light up with curiosity or make a new connection. Some of the best students will figure out new things that I hadn’t ever thought of. For example, a new or simpler way to prove something, or a connection to some other discipline or result that I hadn’t realized. I’ve had many of these students go into wireless or a closely related field and earn doctorates and/or make a lasting impact on technology, and that’s amazing to see and feel you contributed something to.

It’s also very satisfying to see a student who struggles in my class, maybe is on the verge of giving up, but with some encouragement and through their own hard work and commitment, is able to improve and eventually excel in the class and master the material. You can see their self-confidence and knowledge go to a new level, and that is a very meaningful experience. 

How does your research inform your teaching (and vice versa)?

My research strongly feeds into my graduate teaching, as wireless communications changes at a fairly fast pace. I try to focus the topics I cover on where the industry is and is heading. At the undergraduate level, it’s fun to explain how some things they might have heard about—like 5G or data compression— are closely related to the things they are studying in my class.

Did you have a particular instructor who inspired you?

I am perhaps most heavily influenced on the teaching side by John Cioffi and Stephen Boyd, from my graduate years at Stanford.

Cioffi, because I took four communications classes with him, and I appreciated his minimalist style of teaching. He wrote everything by hand, and started from very basic concepts to build up intuition and then did much more complicated mathematical things that were not widely known. I also enjoyed how opinionated he was. Even if I eventually realized I didn’t agree with a certain opinion, his personal anecdotes and insider perspective (he pretty much invented DSL) made the class feel unique. 

Boyd was simply the most charismatic and dynamic lecturer I’ve ever had. I looked forward to every lecture on dynamic linear systems and optimization, it was like having you brain lit on fire. My lecture style is quite different than his, but I aspire to his combination of rigor and innovation—you felt like every homework and exam was so interesting and thought-provoking, along with his inspiring lectures. It turns out I was not alone, over a half million people have now watched his optimization lectures on YouTube since that became a thing!

What does winning the Gordon T. Lepley IV Endowed Memorial Teaching Award mean to you?

I have put more effort into my teaching the last 5 years, including creating two new classes. I have enjoyed teaching EE351K Probability to undergraduates, which led to a lot of them taking my new Digital Communications class in Spring 2020. I cross-listed the class for the first time to undergraduates and had about 4 times more students than usual. A lot of them are now doing grad school in communications-type topics, including here at UT, which is really cool. Designing my own unique Probability class, and then the new Dig Comm class, took a lot of effort so I’m glad it had some impact and that impact is being recognized with this award.