Emerging Engineering Educator

Stephanie Wettstein, Ph.D.

Montana State University

For transforming lectures into student-inspiring workshops with impact that continues long after graduation; for mentorship that creates stronger students and professionals; and for collaborations that resulted in sharing best practices.

Stephanie Wettstein, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the chemical and biological engineering department of Montana State University (MSU). She joined the department in 2012, and her duties include teaching, research, and outreach. Her research focuses on synthesizing platform chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass using novel catalytic and separation processes.

Dr. Wettstein is dedicated to helping students develop critical thinking skills, confidence, and a sense of curiosity, changing their mindsets from “having to take this course” to “I’m looking forward to this course.” In 2018, she developed an innovative role-playing scenario where students worked as interns for the “Fundamental Analytical Verified Research Engineering (FAVRE) Corp.” The four co-instructors on the course became “managers,” and all lectures were presented as “training workshops.” Additionally, the main course document was modified to read as an employee handbook, which covered details such as what to include in various reports; tips on how to elucidate important results; how to write concisely; and how to format charts, figures, and tables. Students have commented that they still use the handbook after graduation.

Additionally, Dr. Wettstein incorporates hypothetical industry-based laboratory scenarios for experimental objectives so that students can see real-world applications. For example, an experiment to measure the pressure drop across a packed bed was put into the context of having to evaluate different shapes of potential catalysts for a packed bed reactor. These scenarios were well received by students and motivated them to visualize performing these experiments in industry. This innovative role-playing experience attracted substantial grants from the MSU writing center, the National Science Foundation, and other institutions.

A hands-on mentor, Dr. Wettstein has had more than 35 undergraduates perform research in her lab, eight of them being co-authors on peer-reviewed manuscripts. In the past four years, four top chemical engineering seniors selected her to be their mentor, and each received awards of excellence. Dr. Wettstein received the 2019 Excellence in Teaching Award, given by the MSU Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, and the 2022 Innovation in Teaching Award, presented to one faculty member across all of MSU.

Dr. Wettstein has served as faculty advisor for the MSU SWE Section since 2013, has presented at WE conferences, and collaborated with other SWE faculty advisors to establish best practices and insights for this role. Their joint efforts resulted in several papers that were presented at American Society for Engineering Education conferences.

She earned a B.S. in paper science at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and worked for three years after graduation as a process engineer for Kimberly-Clark. She then obtained an M.S. and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in the area of zeolite membrane separations. Additionally, she had a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the area of biomass catalysis.

Outside of work, Dr. Wettstein enjoys spending time with family and friends, exploring new areas while camping, completing escape rooms, and indoor climbing at her local gym.