Engineering professor Maura Borrego earns State Council for Higher Education for Virginia Rising Star Award

Maura Borrego

Maura Borrego

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 27, 2010 – Maura Borrego, Virginia Tech assistant professor of engineering education, is a 2010 recipient of one of two Virginia Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Awards sponsored by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and Dominion, an energy company based in Richmond, Va.

Candidates for the Rising Star Award must possess a record of superior accomplishment in four areas of scholarly endeavor: teaching, discovery, integration of knowledge, and service.

This award comes on top of a 2008 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for the development of methods that will better prepare faculty and graduate students for interdisciplinary research. Borrego’s award represented the first PECASE honor given to an engineer in the area of engineering education research.

“Dr. Borrego’s SCHEV award is yet another huge step for our department and indeed for our emerging discipline,” said Hayden Griffin, professor and head of the engineering education department. “Her work as a researcher and an educator is indeed cutting edge, and will resound in the field of engineering for decades to come.”

One of her former students wrote in the SCHEV nomination package, “Dr. Borrego is a great young, enthusiastic, and innovative teacher. She uses active learning techniques, fostering discussion among students, and encourages students to research and present information relevant to the course objectives.”

In 2006 the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Borrego a five-year, $525,000 grant Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award, NSF’s most prestigious award for junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

Her research on interdisciplinary research is based on the increasing complexity of engineering disciplines where a growing number of faculty and students “must adapt to working with researchers in other disciplines who are trained in different methods of evaluating research, seeking evidence and drawing conclusions,” Borrego explained.

Biotechnology research, for example, can link a number of disciplines, including engineering, biology, agriculture, and veterinary medicine. These types of interdisciplinary projects also often require researchers to become familiar with a variety of specialized equipment and scientific vocabularies.

“Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary today for solving our most critical technological and socio-technological research challenges,” Borrego said.

In Borrego’s SCHEV nomination packet, the editor of the top-ranked science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education journal, Journal of Engineering Education, Jack Lohmann, vice provost for faculty and academic development and professor of industrial and systems engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, describes her as “the leading young researcher in engineering education worldwide.”

“Dr. Borrego developed four new graduate courses in the emerging field of engineering education for which there are no existing textbooks. She worked to move the Ph.D. in engineering education through all levels of approval. As an expert in assessment, she helps evaluate many educational efforts in the department, college, university, and beyond,” Griffin said.

Since joining the Virginia Tech faculty spring semester 2005, Borrego has also received the 2008 Best Research Paper Award from Division I of the American Educational Research Association and the Helen Plants Award for best nontraditional session at the 2007 Frontiers in Education Conference. She has received a certificate of teaching excellence from Virginia Tech. Borrego received her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University and a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, all in materials science and engineering.

SCHEV is the commonwealth’s coordinating body for Virginia’s system of higher education. The agency provides policy guidance and budget recommendations to the governor and General Assembly, and is a resource for information on higher education issues and Virginia colleges and universities. Photos and information about each of this year's recipients can be found online.

The Dominion Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Dominion. Headquartered in Richmond, the company serves retail energy customers in eleven states. The Dominion Foundation donates more than $17 million annually to non-profit organizations in states where the company does business. For more information about Dominion, visit the company’s Web site at