Prize in the Civil Engineering Section
Marie Violay joined EPFL in 2015, when she took over teaching a required third-year Bachelor’s course on rock mechanics. She reworked the course material, putting greater focus on rock physics – such as fracture mechanics – and adding in a set of practicals so that students would learn to recognize various types of rocks and be able to test their mechanical properties in the lab.
Professor Violay also teaches a Master’s-level geophysics course that includes a laboratory measurement component, something the students really appreciate. This course, which Violay taught for the first time this past spring, obtained the best evaluations from civil engineering students for the 2016-2017 academic year. It also earned Violay the section’s 2017 prize for excellence in teaching.
“In my opinion, teaching is vital because it forces you to clearly explain your work and keeps you focused on the fundamentals,” says Professor Violay. “It’s also important to deliver the best possible training to our students and make sure they’re aware of the latest developments in research.” Violay adapts her teaching style to the size of the class. In her Bachelor’s course, she relies on front-of-class demonstrations and exercises, while in her Master’s course she can engage more directly with the students. “But even in large classes, I try to encourage my students to speak up, and I ask them lots of questions so that I can keep tabs on how well they’ve grasped the material.” Violay also thinks it is important for students to be able to access material online: presentations, exercises, answer keys and summaries of important points. This gives the students easy access to all the information they need.
Professor Violay has some ideas on how to improve her geophysics course. “And I can maybe even develop a PhD-level course on the frictional properties of rocks, which will be very useful for future engineers,” she adds.