Joël Cugnoni

Prize in the Mechanical Engineering section

Joël Cugnoni works hard to provide his students with a quality education – a goal that has earned him the 2016 teaching prize in the Mechanical Engineering section.

When he plans his lessons, Professor Cugnoni tries to put himself in his students’ shoes: “I ask myself what I wish I had been told when I was in their position.” After all, before the Vaud-born professor started teaching in the Mechanical Engineering section in 2009, he himself was a student there. This advantage helped him identify a gap in the program’s curriculum. “I created the Bachelor’s course Finite element modelling and simulation to bridge theory and practical application.” The point of the course is for students to solve real-life problems that engineers encounter in manufacturing. “With this approach, I get the feeling certain students gain confidence in themselves. Afterwards they feel capable of taking on responsibilities as professionals in the field.” Some of his students have a real interest in these concrete applications, and that motivates Professor Cugnoni even more: “I love being bombarded with questions at the end of class. It’s really gratifying!”

In addition to the theory, Professor Cugnoni wants to pass on his love for the subject along with advice he has come up with based on his own past experience. “The advantage of having a professor is the added value compared with a book,” he said. To make his courses more interesting, he blends classic teaching with an e-learning approach, using computers, tablets, his own video tutorials, and even role-playing games so that his students can experience situations similar to what they will encounter in the working world. He also applies innovative teaching methods to more theoretical courses. “I tried to breathe some fresh air into my Bachelor’s level Mechanical vibrations course, which is quite dense, by making it more interactive.” Given the excellent course evaluations from his students, it would seem his teaching methods are working.

Since he began teaching at EPFL, Professor Cugnoni has co-supervised four PhD dissertations and contributed to eight PhDs. He has also personally supervised over 70 semester and Master’s projects, as well as around 50 projects that his students have done for his courses. The heavy workload has nevertheless been extremely satisfying for the professor. “I feel like I’m helping develop the students’ critical thinking and encouraging their spirit of adventure.”

Professor Cugnoni co-teaches the Fracture mechanics Master’s course and lab alongside Professor John Botsis. He is also a research associate at the School of Engineering’s Laboratory of Applied Mechanics and Reliability Analysis (LMAF).