Congratulations to this year’s winners of the University of Utah College of Engineering Teaching and Staff Awards, given to those for outstanding work in the college in the last year. The recipients represent all of the hardworking and dedicated faculty and staff in the college.

The awards were announced during the annual fall faculty meeting Friday, Aug. 20, presided over by Dean Richard B. Brown.

Following is the list of recipients along with comments from some of the colleagues and students who nominated them.


COE Outstanding Teacher

Daniel Kopta (Assistant Professor, School of Computing)

“Professor Danny Kopta is an exemplar of a committed teacher who explains difficult concepts clearly, builds the confidence of his students, inspires their success, and is responsive to their questions.”


COE Outstanding TA

Dylan Memmott (Graduate Student & Teaching Assistant, Entertainment Arts & Engineering)

“Dylan had an uncanny knack for heading off problems before they emerged. Just as we’d get ready to ask him to help with an assignment, or to check in with a team, we’d get a message that he had already done it, wanted to make sure we were aware, and if we had any input on doing it better. During the pandemic, Dylan became the first line of defense, having students reach to him first, and performing triage. He handled problems and questions with grace and enthusiasm well beyond his years.”


COE Outstanding Staff

This was in honor of the administrative managers for each of the college’s engineering departments and their tireless efforts to keep their respective departments running efficiently, especially during the pandemic.


Sheila Olson (Biomedical Engineering)

Tracey Farnsworth (Chemical Engineering)

Tiffany Hortin (Civil & Environmental Engineering)

Holly Cox (Electrical & Computer Engineering)

Angela Nelson (Materials Science & Engineering)

Sara Wilson (Materials Science & Engineering)

Tiffany Benson (Mechanical Engineering)

Chris Coleman (School of Computing)

Hallie Huber (Entertainment Arts & Engineering)


COE Outstanding Technical Staff

Mel Parkes (Lab & Program Manager, Electrical & Computer Engineering)

 “Mel has been a pillar of the laboratory operations in our department for more years than I can count. Every single student in our department has at one point or another received support from him, be it through access and support for laboratory equipment in classes, to support for their student projects. He is what makes our teaching and clinic laboratories work and is so committed to us providing the best possible boundary conditions to our students – and the faculty who teach them.”


COE Outstanding Service

AJ Dimick (Esports Director, Entertainment Arts & Engineering)

AJ has single-handedly created a novel, high-profile organization around varsity-level esports and brought that organization and the College of Engineering to prominence both through his leadership in the collegiate esports community and through excellence in competition at the national scale.


Jeff Phillips (Associate Professor, School of Computing)

“In 2019, Prof. Phillips became the founding director of the Utah Center for Data Science (UCDS) and the founding director of the Bachelors of Science in Data Science. Given the impact of this work, and in light of the new undergraduate certificates with Mathematics, his collaboration with Mechanical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the MST degree program, he richly deserves to receive the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Service Award.”


University of Utah District Staff Excellence Award

Steven Dean (IT Manager, College of Engineering)

Steve has been instrumental in making the college computing facilities and student labs of exceptional quality and reliability. He has been on campus every single day this past year when most of the campus was closed. He visited faculty and staff homes to help them with computer set-ups and was the principal mover behind setting up six remote-teaching rooms throughout the college that could be used in support of our teaching mission. Steve is, without a doubt, one of the rare individuals who combine compassion with talent.”


April Vrtis-Curran (Academic Program Manager, College of Engineering)

“Throughout the pandemic, April has worked from her university office to provide the best service and support possible for the students and other staff members. She was immediately available when students had petitions related to classes, when issues came up with recruiting and enrollment, to help with scholarships, and when it was permissible, to lead or organize tours for more than 70 prospective students and their families. She stands out as an exceptionally committed and capable staff member, who has distinguished herself during this challenging year by providing the very highest quality of service to support student success.”