SU Professor receives Excellence in Structural Engineering Education Award

[Article by Nane Zietsman]

Stellenbosch University Faculty of Engineering would like to congratulate Professor Richard Walls for winning the 2021 Excellence in Structural Engineering Education Award (ESEEA). This award celebrates innovative and effective teaching techniques that improve student learning at a tertiary level.

In his entry, Prof Walls put forward manifold details of his team that evidenced innovative approaches to developing technical competency in structural engineering and associated fields. These details include his involvement in teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Stellenbosch University, such as Structural Steel Design, Advanced Concrete Design, Final Year Design Project, and Investigational Projects. Various online educational videos focussing on structural and fire safety engineering have been developed. Prof Walls’ videos appear on two Youtube Channels (Richard Walls and FireSUN) with roughly 5 500 subscribers and almost 400 000 collective views. The team led the design of Africa’s first postgraduate degrees in fire safety and structural fire engineering. This included developing the first university fire research lab in Africa and producing extensive research on various topics with the involvement of many MEng and PhD students.

Prof Walls’ educational work extends into a realm of structural engineering that is still rather unfamiliar in the field. That is, improving the safety of the most underprivileged homes in communities. Through research, experimentations, and engagement Prof Walls and his team produced the world’s first fire engineering guideline for informal settlements, otherwise known as slums. This work will be furthered by the upcoming release of free teaching videos and brochures to upskill NGOs, municipalities, fire departments, and other groups. The work produced by this initiative also applies to refugee camps.

Prof Walls, a full-time professor at the Department of Civil Engineering and head of the Fire Engineering Research Unit, is known for his innovative teaching demonstrations. “Over the past seven years of teaching structural engineering subjects, our team has developed a variety of tools for teaching different concepts in the hope that students will be able to visualise structural mechanics and apply the correct first principle procedures to problems. Before COVID, if I were to be caricatured by my past classes, it would probably be for always carrying some form of teaching prop to class or making my students’ lives difficult with bending moment diagram questions,” remarks Prof. Walls.

The judging panel praised Prof Walls for his work, describing it as educational, intuitive, and of great importance to the engineering profession worldwide.

Photograph:Prof Richard Walls using a lightboard to annotate and illustrate a video lecture while facing the audience.