May 16, 2023
By Patricia Waldron
Few faculty are willing to build a recording studio in their basement to record YouTube videos about programming languages or make TikToks to connect with students during a pandemic, but Michael Clarkson Ph.D. ‘10, senior lecturer of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, has done all these things and more.
In recognition of Clarkson’s willingness to go above and beyond to ensure his students’ success, the Cornell Engineering Alumni Association selected Clarkson to receive the Tau Beta Pi Professor of the Year Award, given annually to commend exemplary teaching and commitment to students. This is the second time Clarkson has received this award; he won it in 2021.
"The Tau Beta Pi Professor of the Year Award is unique among the engineering teaching awards in that it is voted on not by faculty, but by students," Clarkson said. "I’m grateful to my students during the pandemic and beyond for their recognition of the impact I had on their education and lives. Out of that experience, if I could give one piece of advice broadly to faculty, it would be: listen carefully to your students. Their insight is crucial to forming a healthy learning community."
Each year, Clarkson teaches up to 1,000 Cornell students how to program, instructing them "to write correct, efficient, and beautiful programs in Java, OCaml, and Coq," according to his YouTube channel, which has more than half a million views.
Members of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society at Cornell nominated Clarkson from more than 350 faculty members and lecturers in the College of Engineering.
"He is clearly very passionate about what he teaches, and many feel that he wants everyone taking the class to learn and succeed," wrote Owen Farchione '23 and Andrea Mayee Haung ‘23, past president and vice president of Tau Beta Pi, respectively, in their nomination. "Professor Clarkson brings out the best in his students and they are all extremely grateful for his skills as an incredible professor."
With this latest award, Clarkson may need to reinforce his trophy shelf. In 2022, he received the Steven H. Weiss Provost’s Teaching Fellowship Award, which is the most prestigious teaching award given by the university to teaching-track faculty and which recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. He received the College of Engineering's Kenneth A. Goldman ’71 Excellence in Teaching Award in 2020, and the Robert ’55 and Vanne ’57 Cowie Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.
Clarkson completed his doctoral degree at Cornell in computer science in 2010 and returned as teaching-track faculty in 2014. He serves as the associate director of the McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute in the College of Engineering and is the faculty advisor for Dungeons and Dragons at Cornell.
Patricia Waldron is a science writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.