Teaching with heart
Memorial Teaching Award winner offers sound instruction and something more
By Robert L. Smith
She teaches more than 400 students a year and expects to get to know all of them by name. For Evren Gurkan-Cavusoglu, PhD, remembering names and faces, as well as majors and research interests, is part of making the classroom a safe place of discovery and teamwork.
That makes it easier, she said, to mold technically savvy, ethically motivated engineers: The kind who build a better world.
Her goal resonates with engineering students. The associate professor of electrical engineering was honored during Engineers Week 2020 with the 2019 Srinivasa P. Gutti Memorial Teaching Award. The annual award from Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, recognizes a faculty member who shows an exemplary commitment to undergraduate teaching. It was presented to Gurkan- Cavusoglu at the Engineers Week Reception Feb. 17 by senior Adi Akalay, the recording secretary of Tau Beta Pi.
Current and former students ex-pressed delight.
“She’s the reason I decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering,” said Jason Lou, a third-year student from New York City.
He said took her course in Logic Design and then Signal Processing and came to see himself as a problem solver.
“She tries hard to get to know you as a person,” he added. “She really cares about whether you are learning, and she’ll try different approaches to help you learn.”
Lauren Lipscomb ’18, a software engineer with Lincoln Electric, said Gurkan-Cavusoglu’s popularity was often on display on the seventh floor of Olin.
“First of all, her office is always full of students,” she recalled. “Students feel very comfortable going to her because she’s so helpful. I went out of my way to take her classes. She’s awesome. She 100 percent deserves this.”
The attention is a bit unsettling for the soft-spoken professor who asks students to call her Evren. But it also validates a career choice and a teaching style.
“I’m really happy about this because I love my job,” she said.
A happy discovery
Evren Gurkan grew up in Turkey the daughter of a doctor and a pharmacist. Like her sister, she enjoyed math and engineering. But while her sister builds dams in Turkey as a civil engineer, Evren was drawn to research and academia.
She earned her master’s degree in systems engineering at the University of Sheffield, England, and returned to Ankara — Turkey’s capital — for her doctorate degree. As a teaching assistant, she discovered her vocation.
“I realized I really liked teaching, and I loved interacting with students,” she said. “If you make it interesting, you can actually see the joy in their eyes as they learn about engineering.”
At an academic conference in Detroit in 2000 she met fellow Turkish engineer Cenk Cavusoglu, PhD. Three years later, they were married. She moved to Cleveland in 2003 when her husband joined the faculty of the Case School of Engineering. She became a research assistant and advanced to full-time faculty in 2013. Recently, she was promoted to associate professor.
Evren and Cenk are raising their 13 year-old son, Tolga, in Beachwood.
Gurkan-Cavusoglu teaches foundational courses for students majoring in electrical and computer engineering. That introduces her to more than 400 engineering students each year, but her impact stretches beyond Case Quad. She helped launch the Women in Tech Initiative at CWRU. As the group’s faculty advisor, she gained the support of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark ’75, MS ’77, who recently made his second $100,000 donation to the initiative.
“It’s a cause that’s close to my heart,” she said.
So is teaching.
“I’m truly honored,” she said. “We do this because we love our students. But when students come and say, ‘I really love your class,’ that is so great.”
As faculty advisor to the Women in Tech Initiative, Evren Gurkan-Cavusoglu tries to draw more women into STEM fields.
Senior Adi Akalay presenting the award at the E-Week Reception.
The family. Clockwise from left: Isin Gurkan (mom), Evren, Cenk and Tolga — after Evren’s MBA graduation from Weatherhead in 2016.