Prof. Cindy Finelli was elevated to IEEE Fellow, class of 2021, “for leadership and scholarship in engineering education.”
Finelli’s research investigates student learning, faculty teaching, and the relationships between them. She is the first tenure-line engineering faculty member in the College of Engineering (CoE) whose scholarship focuses exclusively on engineering education research (EER). Finelli has provided leadership and vision in the area of engineering education for over 20 years, beginning at Kettering University where she established the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2000 and continuing at University of Michigan where she established the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering (CRLTE) in 2004. She served as CRLTE’s director until 2015, when she joined the department.
Her current research involves faculty adoption of evidence-based teaching practices known to promote student learning, engagement, and success in engineering. Grounded in established theoretical frameworks, she employs rigorous data collection and analysis methods to identify factors that motivate faculty to change their teaching behavior and factors that hinder them from changing. By using that knowledge to design research-based faculty development activities, her research can often be immediately put into action by instructors and faculty developers alike.
Finelli’s past research includes efforts to design an institutional change plan that helped create a culture of teaching and learning in CoE. She established the importance of combining national research with local data to motivate changes in teaching, and findings from that project informed the informed the Teaching Circle for Large Engineering Courses and other faculty development activities at U-M and beyond. She also helped design several flexible classrooms in CoE, conducting research about their impact on faculty teaching practices and student behavior, and she created professional development materials to support instructors using the classrooms.
She currently leads a multi-institutional collaborative project that addresses student resistance to active learning. Through validated surveys, interviews, classroom observations, and in-depth case studies at more than 20 institutions, her research has found that how instructors implement active learning has a bigger effect on student resistance than any characteristics of the course, students or instructor. She has also identified concrete strategies instructors can use in the classroom to lower student resistance, and she designed a research-based workshop to equip instructors to adopt active learning and to implement the proven strategies to reduce resistance.
As a leading expert in the field, Finelli is frequently invited to give national and university seminars about promoting evidence-based teaching, and she often provides insight on panels and special conference sessions about promoting instructional change. Through her leadership, numerous faculty have adopted evidence-based teaching practices, resulting in a better education for engineering students around the world.
Finelli received her doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering: Systems from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1993. She has received several best paper awards, and numerous professional honors and awards, including a Premier Award for Engineering Education Courseware. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), she serves on ASEE’s “Task Force on Faculty Teaching Excellence”, and she is past Deputy Editor for Journal of Engineering Education.