Prof. Laura Balzano wins Education Excellence Award from the College of Engineering

Balzano is honored for her all-around excellence in teaching, mentorship, and curriculum development.

Laura Balzano Enlarge

Laura Balzano, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has received the Vulcans Education Excellence Award from the College of Engineering. This award honors faculty who “demonstrated sustained excellence in curricular development, instruction, and guidance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Balzano joined the department in 2013 and has been a key leader for curriculum innovation and development at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in EECS. In addition, she’s made substantial contributions outside the classroom and advises and mentors students at all levels.

“Laura gives more to students than one might expect, and it’s not because she has to, but because she cares and is passionate,” says Prof. Raj Rao Nadakuditi. “I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

Laura gives more to students than one might expect, and it’s not because she has to, but because she cares and is passionate.

Prof. Raj Rao Nadakuditi

At the undergrad level, Balzano revitalized the junior-level course on Digital Signal Processing and Analysis, which deals with how one can make sense of the patterns via processing (or “filtering”) of the digital recordings from electronic sensors of the kind that arise in EEG electrodes, thermostats, strain gauges, pressure transducers, or gyroscopes. To update the course, Balzano taught modern machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms that can enable a variety of modern applications and research. She also incorporated a group project into the class, which allows students to engage in hands-on collection of data using digital devices, analyze it using the tools learned in the class, and present their findings in class and as project webpages. Her methods provide students with the skills necessary to become technical leaders in these emerging and evolving roles.

Balzano has also been instrumental in the creation and expansion of the graduate-level Certificate of Data Science.

“I say without hesitation that Laura’s community-building was a major factor in fostering the growth of the DS Certificate to what is now one of the largest and most successful Rackham certificate programs,” says Al Hero, John H. Holland Distinguished University Professor of EECS and R. Jamison and Betty Williams Professor of Engineering, who was a founding co-director of the Michigan Institute of Data Science.

Balzano receives top-evaluations from students, and two graduate students whom she mentored personally went on to win the prestigious College of Engineering Towner Prize for outstanding GSIs.

She is also an active participant in many outreach activities, including developing and presenting materials through Wolverine Pathways and MSTEM programs, as well as advising the Girls in EECS student organization.

Balzano directs the Signal Processing Algorithm Design and Analysis Lab (SPADA). SPADA develops machine learning algorithms and theory that can handle “messy data” – data with missing values, corruptions, calibration issues, and heterogeneity.  She has received an NSF CAREER Award, a Fulbright Scholar Award, an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, an Army Research Office Young Investigator Award, a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, and an Intel Early Career Faculty Honor Program Award.