by Nicole Capozziello
Published April 2, 2020
Earlier this year, Sabrina Casucci, an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and director of the Engineering Management Program, received word that she had been named a 2020 Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador.
While Casucci has been dedicated to designing and providing high-quality education opportunities for years, she had no idea how important her experience and skills were about to become.
On March 11, it was announced that UB, like all SUNY schools, was moving to an online education model for the remainder of the spring semester. Since then, Casucci has been a key leader in the team that’s been supporting and preparing the school in this huge, unanticipated shift.
Sharing her expertise with others has always been something Casucci has done, for the benefit of students and faculty alike. It was for this dedication to not only serving the school as an educator, but expanding the possibilities of online learning that Casucci was named an Online Teaching Ambassador.
The Open SUNY program celebrates "exemplary online educators, who are enthusiastic and effective in online teaching, and who can be positive and strong advocates for online teaching in our SUNY community.”
Casucci’s online teaching experience has stretched from designing and teaching her own online classes to transforming the Engineering Management graduate program from an on-campus program to one that can be achieved entirely online, on-campus, or a combination.
“I am thankful for all of the hard and innovative work Sabrina has done to ensure that our online Engineering Management program is exceptional. We are learning so much about how to develop effective online educational programs from her efforts and leadership,” said Victor Paquet, professor and chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
When it came to designing and leading the program, Casucci brought over ten years of professional experience in project management, quality design, and process improvement. She also channeled what she had learned from the experience of designing online courses that blend theory, experiential learning and mentoring elements.
But most importantly, Casucci brought her personal experience as an engineer, manager, and former student.
“I wish that the Engineering Management program had been available when I went back to school,” says Casucci, who completed her MBA in 2004 before ultimately earning her PhD in industrial engineering in 2015, both from UB. “My MBA taught me many things. But most importantly, it helped me realize that I love being an engineer.”
When the opportunity to lead the scale-up of the engineering management program into the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ first fully online master’s program, Casucci welcomed the challenge.
With funding from the UB Provost’s office and on a timeline of just a few short months, she led a team of professionals in the school to transition six in person courses to online, hire staff and instructors to support students and deliver course content, recruit students and market the program. Individuals from across the school, from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, The Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE), Digital Education, Graduate Recruitment and Enrollment, Communications and the Dean’s Office, all came together to develop the program.
“Revamping the program to accommodate both on-campus and online students is a challenging endeavor that requires commitment and resources from every level of the university and the strong commitment from school leadership,” says Casucci. “While creating high-quality and effective course content is certainly important, the potentially more complex challenge is building or adapting university, school and departmental level systems designed for the traditional on-campus student.”
To do this, Casucci emphasized the flexibility of the program at every level. Students can apply at any time, and classes are offered all three semesters. Courses can be taken entirely online, entirely on-campus, or in some kind of combination. This model allows students to pursue their master’s degree from anywhere without leaving their careers. And the courses themselves are enhanced by the online learning model; classes are project-based, allowing both students and their workplaces to immediately see and appreciate what students are learning.
The average engineering management student, who may come from a variety of engineering or science backgrounds, is working in some capacity while taking two classes a semester. “It’s not about the time it takes –it’s about completion,” says Casucci. “As life changes, we work with you.”
For Casucci, continuing to grow the program is what drives her. She is constantly working on expanding electives and interdisciplinary courses to complement the diverse interests and backgrounds of the program’s students.
Casucci was recognized with a certificate of recognition and a digital badge at a ceremony during the SUNY Online Summit, held in New York City from Feb. 26-28.
Alex Reid, an associate professor in the Department of English, was also named a 2020 Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador.