Professor Yale Patt Receives 2017 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship

The white walls in Yale Patt’s office aren’t decorated with much. A calendar where he’s penned in his trips to Sweden, Barcelona, and China hangs on one wall. On another, he’s taped copies of “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall,” and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, all printed on regular white paper. Sporting jeans, a plain maroon shirt, and a pair of unremarkable grey sneakers, he leans back in his black rolling chair and stretches out his legs.

This is one of UT’s foremost electrical and computer engineering professors.

He’s held the Ernest Cockrell, Jr. Centennial Chair in Engineering since 1999, won a slew of awards for his work in computer architecture, and earned a spot in the National Academy of Engineering. And in April, he added another feather to his cap. The Friar Society, UT’s oldest honor society,  surprised him with the 2017 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the largest undergraduate teaching award at UT. Members of the Friars, the Longhorn Band, Orange Jackets, and Silver Spurs bombarded his classroom during a regular lecture and presented him with the award. Past winners have been UT stars like Michael Stoff, James Vick, and Elizabeth Richmond-Garza. “I look at that list, and I go: ‘wow,’” Patt says. “So when it happened, I choked up.”

Patt’s casual clothes, ambitious travel itinerary, and love of poetry can all be traced back to his life mantra: Take big bites. “I don’t know how to do moderation,” Patt says. His attire is laid-back—in the past students have mistaken him for the TA—but that’s because he says what he wears has nothing to do with his teaching. “I may be informal, but I care about how you’re doing,” he says. “I care deeply, but there’s no reason to wear a suit, tie, etc.”

His courses are structured so that much of the time is spent answering students’ questions about the material, encouraging students to spend outside class time studying. Part of his “Ten Commandments for Good Teaching” is to set the bar high. “The students will rise to it,” Patt says. “They may complain while it’s happening, but at the end of the semester, they shake my hand and say, ‘thank you, I never knew I could learn so much.’”

Now in his late 70s, he says people ask if he plans on retiring soon. His answer is always, “Why would I do that?”

“If you’re an engineering professor, there are three things you’re doing: you teach, do research, and consult on projects and industry,” Patt says. “If the ‘god of universities’ came to me and said you need to give up two of the three, which one do you keep? Teaching. There’s no question. It’s what I love.”

Photos courtesy of UT ECE. 


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