Tony-ButterfieldIt was by accident that University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor (lecturing) Anthony Butterfield discovered his love of teaching.

Five years ago, the then business consultant and engineering graduate had to fill in for another professor for a semester. Butterfield never intended to teach at a university.

“I had a crippling fear of public speaking. I never thought I could do this,” he remembered. “They asked me to teach the senior lab, and it went really well. I just found a love for it. I found there was no better job than this.”

Thanks to that unusual happenstance, Butterfield is now a popular faculty member who has gained the instant respect of students and colleagues alike. It was announced in May that Butterfield is one of six recipients of this year’s University Of Utah Beacons Of Excellence Award, an annual recognition given to people, programs or departments that create a “transformational experience that empowers U. of U. students.” He is the only engineering faculty member to receive the award this year.

“It was very touching,” Butterfield said about the news. “I’ve known students I’ve worked with since they were my high school interns, and there’s so many supportive colleagues. Nobody gets an award like this without having so many people helping you and allowing you to do things you couldn’t do otherwise.”

Butterfield received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering at the U and a master’s degree at the University of California, San Diego. But he returned to the U to earn his Ph.D in chemical engineering. After a stint as a consultant for a financial company, Butterfield was hired by the U and began teaching in 2010.

Finding new and innovative ways to teach students has been a priority in his career. Butterfield developed a new freshman design lab so students can get hands-on experience building devices early on. He also is the adviser for the university’s Chem-E-Car team (which won last year’s national competition in Atlanta) as well as for the U’s chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and he has worked on the department’s K-12 outreach team. Meanwhile, his research has focused on building sensors for air quality measurement as well as one device that uses ultrasound to measure extreme temperatures.

“It’s hard to imagine anything more rewarding than students coming back and telling you that something you taught them helped them get a job,” he said about the rewards of teaching. “And you get to see them grow over the semester. I couldn’t imagine a better occupation — your effect on people is so immediately evident. You meet a lot of great people too.”

In addition to Butterfield, the recipients of this year’s Beacons Of Excellence Award include Dr. Craig Bryan, assistant professor of psychology and associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies; Dr. Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski, assistant vice president for academic affairs/undergraduate studies; ArtsForce, College of Fine Arts; The Larry H. and Gail Miller Enrichment Scholarship Program; and the Women’s Resource Center, Division of Student Affairs.

Any faculty member, staff or student can nominate a candidate for the award, which began in 2011.

The purpose of the awards are to recognize “pockets of brilliance at the University of Utah, inspiring teachers, empowering programs, and engaging research opportunities,” said the U’s associate vice president of academic affairs, Martha S. Bradley. “The award winners demonstrate the core values of the campaign to transform the student experience.”