Award winning teacher

Wheaton 

As she teaches courses like surveying, Katie Wheaton helps her students find their own path into engineering. They chose her to receive the 2019 Memorial Teacher Award. 

Katie Wheaton ’01 was not sure of the role she could play as an engineer, not until her freshman year at the Case School of Engineering, when memorable professors showed her the galaxy of possibilities. 

Today she tries to do the same with her students, whom she describes as bright, collaborative, and unsure where their talents might take them. 

“There’s something that brought them to the School of Engineering. There’s some motivation they have,” she said. “It may be a little murky right now. Part of what I’m trying to do is show them there’s a place for them in the community of engineers. I want them to know they bring unique talents that our community needs.”

That message is heard and appreciated. Wheaton, an instructor in the Department of Civil Engineering, will receive the 2019 Srinivasa P. Gutti Memorial Teaching Award at the Engineers Week Reception February 28. The award is presented annually by the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi to a faculty member who displays “an exemplary commitment to undergraduate teaching.”Wheaton

Wheaton, who joined the faculty as an adjunct nine years ago, is heartened to know that her approach and her passion resonate. She loves her job. 

“When I’m at work I feel fully engaged,” she said. 

She brings industry experience to her classes, which emphasize foundational skills for civil engineering, like surveying, statistical analysis and structural design. Some students have her three and four times before they graduate. Some only once. Many describe a memorable experience. 

They say she knows their names, knows the industry trends, and more than anything would love to see them succeed. 

“Her expertise in the industry really helps,” said graduate student Jack Worsham ’18, adding that Wheaton brings real world examples of engineering issues to class, some of them pulled from the daily news. 

“Then there’s the level of passion she brings to it,” he added. “She’s not a PhD. She is here for teaching.” 

Ian Steiner, a fourth year student majoring in civil engineering, said he would eagerly advise a friend to enroll in her classes. 

“I would tell them that professor Wheaton is just incredibly invested in their success,” he said. “She views that as her job and she will make sure people have the tools they need to succeed.” 

Patricia Cheng, who expects to graduate in May with a degree in civil engineering, describes Wheaton as one of the most influential people in her life. 

“She’s taught me everything I know about steel and concrete design and that’s important,” she said. “But I think the most important thing she’s taught me is that there’s more than one way to be a good engineer and there’s more than one way to be a good person. That sounds so obvious, but I just didn’t realize it until professor Wheaton believed in me."

WheatonWheaton is a big believer in the power of mentors to shape a young person’s life.  She grew up in an engineer-free home in the Cleveland suburb of Brecksville. Mom was a school teacher, dad a lawyer. Her parents, dad especially, pushed Katie and her three siblings toward engineering. 

“He always taught us it was important to pay attention to details and to be problem solvers,” she said. “We followed that.” 

All four of the Payne children became engineers, with Katie an enthusiast of civil engineering, which she describes as the foundation of a healthy society. 

Her passion was whetted on her first job out of Case, in Washington, D.C., where she helped renovate the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution as a building designer and structural engineer. She deepened her knowledge with a master’s degree in structural engineering at Lehigh University, then came home to Cleveland and went to work for Osborn Engineering. 

“I really, really enjoyed the work,” she said. But she and her husband, Andrew Wheaton ’01, were ready to start a family. After giving birth to her first child, she sought a job that would allow more time to raise children. 

A former professor suggested teaching a class at Case, and she started as an adjunct in 2010. In 2015, she joined the faculty full time. Today, she has four classes and three daughters, ages 10, 7 and four. 

“Sometimes it feels like I have seven children,” she laughed. 

She believes civil engineering is entering a new era of importance, as the world faces climate change and forces that will stress man-made structures. She says her students are entering the field at an auspicious time. 

“My role is to empower them and excite them and remind them that engineers rise to the challenge,” she said. 

Their response: the top honor that Case engineering students can bestow upon a faculty member.

For tickets and more information on the Engineers Week Reception go to https://www.casealum.org/engineers-week-2019-copy