KALAMAZOO, Mich.—His discoveries in the lab could lead to lifesaving innovations to treat buildup within arteries, but it's his work with students that is garnering Dr. James Springstead accolades right now. The Mid-American Conference (MAC) Academic Consortium selected Springstead, associate professor of chemical engineering, to represent Western Michigan University as Outstanding Faculty for Student Success.
"Dr. Springstead cares deeply for our students and is always willing to support their learning inside and outside of the classroom or laboratory," says Dr. Steve Butt, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "As a whole, our college offers hands-on learning experiences that prepare career-ready engineering graduates. Dr. Springstead exemplifies a faculty member who makes this happen."
Each year, the MAC chooses one winner from each member institution based on the many different ways faculty significantly impact students. The award celebrates the conference's commitment to a holistic student experience by creating an environment that supports success both in the classroom and in life.
"I believe that at WMU we are special in that we create strong and personal bonds with our students. We have such a great team that is devoted to the success of our students, and I am so thankful to receive this honor," Springstead says. "The most rewarding and enjoyable part of my job is that I am able to help and see our Broncos succeed and start their careers upon graduating and eventually see them successful with their own careers and families."
That genuine care for students is evident in talking with those who have spent time in his lab.
"Dr. Springstead has always been very helpful in providing resources to study from and has always gone above and beyond with providing personal advice and letters of recommendation," says Eliza VanZweden, a recent chemical engineering graduate. "(He) is a great mentor and is highly invested in the success of his students."
Springstead's work involves using chemistry to solve biological problems, such as studying lipids that can clog arteries and exploring the development and delivery of novel therapeutics that could treat atherosclerosis—a condition that leads to heart disease and stroke.
"In my laboratory we have several students from different backgrounds. I enjoy emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach to our research, and I am excited about the recent emphasis on collaboration here at WMU," says Springstead, referring to his students from chemical engineering, biomedical sciences and even aerospace engineering who offer different perspectives and approaches to solving problems in medicine. "I also have the pleasure of opening our research lab to high school students, many of whom matriculate to WMU, as well as undergraduates, graduate students and medical students."
Outside of the lab he is also involved on campus, participating in several teams charged with leading the University into the future. This includes being on the OneWMU Faculty Design Team charged with examining the curricular aspects of University College—an initiative to centralize academic advising and create an academic home for exploring students and students transitioning between majors—and being a Faculty Champion, helping coordinate efforts and facilitate discussions to improve online teaching during the pandemic.
"I am very excited and hopeful that we can effectively bring some of these new teaching methods to complement our in-person teaching and to improve education in the future," Springstead says. "I think that we can enhance education so much in terms of making education more accessible and giving students access to more resources that assist in learning material."
He was also part of the Fall Contingency Task Force, which helped guide plans to safely offer academic opportunities for students amid the pandemic. The loss of one of his senior design mentees, Bassey Offiong, to COVID-19 drove him to join the group.
"It was so sad to see someone with so much potential, and also a very kind and thoughtful person who was loved by his classmates, pass away so close to his degree and the beginning of his career as an engineer," he says. "Joining the task force allowed me to help make sure that we were able to bring back students safely and also to teach effectively."
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