Tony Butterfield has not only been a popular and respected professor on the University of Utah’s College of Engineering campus, he’s also a valuable advocate for LGBTQ students.
The associate professor (lecturing) in chemical engineering, who already has received a University of Utah Beacons of Excellence Award and an award from the university’s Career Services Faculty Recognition Program for his teaching, was named the recipient of the 2017 National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals GLBT Educator Award. The award was established as “a means of identifying, honoring, and documenting the contributions of outstanding GLBT science, engineering and technology professionals, as well as corporations, academic institutions, and businesses that support GLBT professionals in the fields of science and technology,” according to the group.
“To be recognized as an effective teacher when it’s your soul purpose is incredibly important,” he said about receiving the award. “So has been receiving the support from the great faculty in my department and from the students.”
Butterfield, who has been with the University of Utah since 2010, was honored for his “outstanding achievements . . . for GLBT students in science and technology and developing improved online methods to assist in understanding concepts of chemical engineering,” according to the organization.
About five years ago, Butterfield and graduate student Kyle Branch created a website at vstem.org that includes interactive animated simulations in areas such as bioreactors and spectrophotometry to help students learn about scientific concepts before they conduct hands-on experiments.
“Personally, I’ve always learned best by tinkering,” he said about why he created the website for students. “It’s easier to build intuition by tweaking knobs and seeing how it affects the results. So I always wanted to build something for students where they could control the parameters and see how that affects whatever system they’re interested in.”
In addition to becoming an appreciated educator, Butterfield also devotes his time to helping engage LGBTQ students in engineering fields. More than two years ago, he helped launch the U’s chapter of oSTEM, the science, technology, engineering and mathematics club for LGBTQ students. He also has conducted student outreach efforts with youth from the Salt Lake City LGBTQ community to introduce them to engineering.
“One of the most important functions is to give students a place where they can drop their guard and not worry if they are being judged by their peers and to help them build some sort of community and support network,” he said about his role as an advocate.
Butterfield received his bachelor’s from the University of Utah and a master’s from the University of California, San Diego, both in chemical engineering. He then returned to the U where he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering. For him, informing young minds has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his career.
“At first, I had a crippling fear of public speaking, and I never thought I would go into academia. It literally happened by accident,” he said about becoming an instructor. “But that first semester, I saw that I had something to impart. I taught something, and it seemed vital to the students. That’s addictive stuff — to see the small part we can play in that.”