Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Engineering honors faculty, staff

June 15, 2009

by Joe King

NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has announced its 2008-09 Faculty of the Year and Staff of the Year award winners.

Pradip Majumdar, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was named Faculty of the Year. Tara Milton, a member of the dean’s staff, and Jennifer Withers, office manager for the Department of Electrical Engineering, share top honors for the staff award.

“I continue to be amazed by the passion and commitment that our faculty and staff show to the college and to the students. Their hard work is one of the primary reasons for our spectacular growth and acceptance in the region,” says Promod Vohra, dean of the college.

Majumdar, who has been on the faculty at NIU since 1985, was nominated by his peers not only for his excellence in the classroom, but also for his dedication to students outside of regular class time as well.

During the past year that has included:

  • Directing the master’s thesis of seven students (plus co-directing another)
  • Overseeing two senior design projects
  • Involving undergraduates in his research projects
  • Acting as adviser to the campus chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a position he has held since 1987
  • Serving as director of the department’s undergraduate laboratory
  • Serving as director of undergraduate studies for the department

“Dr. Majumdar is one of the leading researchers in the college. He has demonstrated his ability to engage in research and also to work with industry. He brings all these experiences to the classroom, which is why the students feel that they are getting quality education from him,” Vohra says.

On the staff side, the committee found two nominees so outstanding it decided to split the honor.

Milton serves as assistant to Vohra – and he is the first to admit that it is no easy job.

“A dean’s effectiveness is determined, in part, by the quality of his or her staff, and Tara is a true professional,” says Vohra, citing Milton’s ability to handle stress, manage schedules and help facilitate interactions with other colleges and departments across campus.

Mia Hannon, business manager for CEET, calls Milton an excellent problem solver and someone who is proactive. For instance, after the shootings on campus, Milton helped write an emergency response plan for the college, scheduled first aid training for staff and secured two-way radios to improve emergency communication in the building. She also organized a safety committee for the college.

“I believe that her work gave all of us a greater sense of security,” Hannon says.

Milton is active in many facets of the college and elsewhere on campus. When CEET’s alumni relations staffer retired, she jumped in and organized the college’s homecoming activities. She is a regular participant at Move-In Day, has judged at the History Fair on campus and has spent three years as a member of the board at the NIU Credit Union.

Sharing the staff honor with Milton is Withers.

Colleagues in the Department of Electrical Engineering, where Withers serves as business manager, say that it is easy to find her desk – it’s the one that often has a balloon or thank you card on display, gifts from a grateful student or someone else she has assisted.

Listening to colleagues speak about Withers is like reading through a thesaurus listing of superlatives. Words such as outstanding, exceptional, excellent, flawless and enthusiastic turn up again and again. And that high level of performance is always accompanied by a smile, whether it is helping a faculty member with an emergency, or welcoming alumni to the college homecoming tent.

“Her attitude helps cultivate a sense of respect and harmony in the department,” says Sen Kuo, who served as chair of the department for six years.

Other faculty in the department echo those sentiments and marvel at her efficiency and devotion to her job. “Whether it is finding data, looking up student information or ordering parts, she always goes above and beyond what is asked of her,” says Donald Zinger, a professor in the department.

Indicative of her efforts to always improve her performance, Withers is currently pursuing a degree in management from the NIU College of Business.