Chairman’s Prize Recipient

Richard D. Sisson Jr.

In his nearly three decades as a WPI faculty member, Rick Sisson, the George F. Fuller Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has exemplified the ideal of the university professor. As a researcher, he has blazed new paths and earned the admiration of his peers for both the quality and the quantity of his scholarship. An inspirational teacher, mentor, and guide, he has helped students and colleagues seek out the best in themselves. And through his service, he has advanced his discipline, his university, and his profession in ways both meaningful and lasting.

Sisson’s prolific contributions to the literature in materials science and engineering have ranked him among the top 5 percent of scholars in that field. In nearly 200 technical articles and an extensive volume of presentations at scientific meetings, he has shared pioneering work, supported by more than $7 million in external funding from a long list of agencies and corporations, in such areas as materials process modeling and control, hydrogen embrittlement of steels, and environmental effects on metals and ceramics.

His work in data mining and quenching “has opened a whole new area in physical metallurgy research,” a colleague notes. His work has earned him significant honors, including fellowship in ASM International, the materials information society, and induction into the Academy of Engineering Excellence at his alma mater, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Of the school’s 45,000 living alumni, only 53 have earned this distinction.

Known as a patient but demanding teacher who challenges students to achieve more than they thought they were capable of, Sisson has mentored numerous undergraduates and graduate students in the classroom and as a project advisor. His skill as an educator has been recognized by students, who named him advisor of the year in mechanical engineering in 2006, and the university, which presented him with the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1987.

Believing strongly that curricula must evolve to meet the changing needs of students, he has introduced new courses in aerospace materials and the analysis and control of materials processes, and has developed new programs, including a new interdisciplinary master’s program in materials systems engineering. Between 1994 and 1999, he was director of the National Science Foundation’s Product REALIZATION Consortium, a coalition of five universities that worked to reform undergraduate manufacturing engineering education. He also founded and directs The Learning Factory, a student project center that WPI operates as a collaboration with Pratt & Whitney’s jet engine manufacturing facility in East Hartford, Conn.

Sisson’s service to WPI includes a year as interim head of the Mechanical Engineering Department and his current posts as director of the Manufacturing Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering programs. He has participated in numerous faculty committees, has directed project centers, and, in addition to advising his students, has frequently served as a mentor to his junior colleagues. Beyond the WPI campus, he has held a wide range of leadership roles that have brought distinction to himself and the university. An ASM trustee from 2002 to 2005, he has been vice president and is currently president of the ASM Heat Treating Society, an association for which he has also organized many symposia. “His whole being is about making a difference,” a colleague writes, “and he has succeeded in doing so.”

For his pioneering contributions to materials science and engineering, his exceptional record of achievement as an educator, and his contributions to WPI and the greater professional world through his unselfish service, WPI is proud to award Professor Rick Sisson the 2007 Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize.

John A. McNeill

John McNeill “represents our best aspirations for the role of faculty at WPI,” notes a letter nominating him for the Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize. He has made his mark on all aspects of faculty life—as a distinguished and widely cited researcher, an award-winning, innovative, and inspirational teacher, and an active and engaged faculty leader.

McNeill’s research focuses on mixed-signal integrated circuit (IC) design. His accomplishments in the research laboratory began as a PhD candidate at Boston University. For his dissertation, he developed theoretical techniques and design tools for reducing jitter (abrupt and unwanted phase variations) in ring oscillators, which are widely used in digital- and analog-integrated circuits. He joined WPI in 1994, after gaining valuable engineering design experience in industry, and continued his groundbreaking work. A 1997 paper on the same topic was chosen for inclusion in a published compilation of the most significant research in phase-locked loop communications systems. At WPI, he founded NECAMSID (the New England Center for Analog and Mixed-Signal IC Design), which has brought in well over $1 million in funding and supported more than 30 master’s and PhD students and some 40 undergraduate Major Qualifying Projects.

His pioneering work has been recognized externally with multiple patents, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (bestowed on the most exemplary young scholar educators), and a Best Paper Award at the 2005 International Solid-State Circuits Conference, a significant honor that led to invited presentations at major research universities around the nation.

McNeill takes special joy in sharing his research and his enthusiasm for discovery with students. His skill as an educator has been recognized—twice with the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Electrical Engineering Professor Award, and also with WPI’s Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching. Always looking for better ways to help students learn, he developed an entirely new undergraduate analog microelectronics curriculum and three new graduate courses. And he helped found a project center in Limerick, Ireland, where students have completed more than 20 projects with Analog Devices and the University of Limerick over the past decade.

Despite a heavy workload as a researcher and teacher, McNeill has been generous in service to his department and the university, including chairing the department’s undergraduate and graduate program committees. He is an active mentor to young faculty within and outside the department, and has been known to increase his already busy schedule by volunteering to teach extra classes to ensure that students with an interest in analog electronics are not short-changed. McNeill’s greatest contribution may be the example he sets for others. As one former student said, “His ethics, patience, and hard work—combined with an incredible ability in his area of study—make him an excellent role model for anyone.”

For his groundbreaking scholarship, his innovative and inspirational teaching, and his tireless work on behalf of his department, his university, and his profession, WPI is proud to award Professor John McNeill the 2007 Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize.