Dr Grant Webber is a senior lecturer in the School of Engineering, and just one of the reasons why Chemical Engineering was voted number one in Australia for Good Teaching and Overall Satisfaction with overall student satisfaction is at 95%+. We spoke to Dr Webber about the importance of great teaching for great outcomes for students.

“The outcome of #1 in Australia for overall satisfaction and good teaching in the latest survey is recognition of the hard work over many years by all academics in chemical engineering to innovate our teaching and to align our program with both our research and wider industry developments.

“I value teaching very, very highly, both my parents were school teachers, so I’ve had that exposure all my life. From day one teaching has been a focus of mine. When I think back to academics and teachers that I like, they’re the ones I try to replicate when teaching and a lot of that is about being available for students and being more than ‘just a teacher’. I get so much satisfaction out of my job.

“To see my students go on and do a PhD or be successful in their career makes the job so much more rewarding. Some students start off without a clear idea of their path and to see them focus and progress is what drives me in my teaching.

“When I was a student in high school I didn’t know what engineering was. I didn’t do my undergraduate in engineering, it was in science and mathematics, which is an area that crosses over into engineering. But I’ve been involved in engineering now for about 12 years. For me it’s about making students understand what engineering is.

Chemical Engineering: a multi-disciplinary area

“It can be sometimes difficult for students to understand what a chemical engineer does. The jobs that a chemical engineer did 10 years ago aren’t the same as the jobs they do today – or potentially the ones they’ll be doing in 10 years time. So we need to teach students to adapt and evolve.

“The chemical engineering program at UON has very strong links with our research department. The impact of our researchers such as Laureate Professor Graeme Jameson, Laureate Professor Kevin Galvin and Professor Behdad Moghtaderi is great – it’s very impactful research that directly feeds back into our undergraduate teaching.

“We will always teach courses about which we’re passionate and that feeds back into our teaching. I teach a second year course, and half of the course is precisely what I do on a day-to-day research basis. So everything I research feeds back into my teaching. We use practical examples about how the theory relates to industry and the products that appear on the shelf – the research is using knowledge to create new theories.

“Our students need to be able to grasp the real-world application of what they study. Our final year design projects are quite research based and we’ll be designing whole plants that haven’t yet been built so they’re only a theoretical concept at the moment. They can’t go out and ‘google’ how to create this plant as it hasn’t been built yet. This gives them a real challenge and really tests the limits of their ability and gives them a real feel for what they’ll be doing in industry.

“Industry is about doing something new, using new processes and materials. Students really like the link between what the academics are doing with research and teaching. The exposure to research early on really helps them broaden their knowledge.

Innovation in a changing career landscape

“We need to expose students to technologies and applications that may not be mainstream now, but they will be (hopefully) becoming mainstream by the time they graduate. This means our students will be more comfortable with moving into new areas and looking at things that aren’t familiar. This is particularly important with chemical engineering moving into renewable energies and alternative fuels – and improving usage of the materials we already have. At UON our students are exposed to state-of-the-art infrastructure at NIER, and our students are also involved to research over summer in various projects.

“We offer our students something unique at UON, and that’s why we’re seeing such great results with student satisfaction.”

To find out more about Bachelor of Engineering (honours) (Chemical) visit our website here.