University of Texas at Austin


Oden Faculty Tom Yankeelov is Recipient of 2024 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship

By Joanne Foote

Published June 27, 2024

Tom Yankeelov was surprised with the award during his class.

Tom Yankeelov, professor of biomedical engineering and core faculty member at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences was awarded the 2024 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship from The Friar Society for his work bridging the gap between computational science and oncology. The annual award is given to an outstanding undergraduate professor selected through nominations from students, faculty, staff and administrators.

According to the April announcement from the Friar Society, which is the oldest and most prestigious multidisciplinary honor society at The University of Texas at Austin: “Yankeelov’s pioneering work has not only positioned him as a leader in this critical field but also profoundly impacted many lives.” 

“I had no idea the award even existed, and I had no idea I was nominated,” said Yankeelov, who is the Director at the Center for Computational Oncology at the Oden Institute, and the W.A.”Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Chair in Computational Engineering and Sciences IV – Computational Oncology. He was completely surprised when representatives popped into his class on a Thursday in April to present the certificate and explain the award. 

“I still don't really know how I was selected.  I am convinced it was an accounting error,” Yankeelov said, incredulous. “They showed up in my class, asked for everyone's attention, and then told me told me I had won this very nice teaching award. It was amazing.”

I take teaching very seriously and try really hard to develop my own brand of "edu-tainment" to serve them.  So, when I found out I was selected for the award, it felt really, really good. In fact, I am a little embarrassed by how good it felt.

— Tom Yankeelov

A citation from a student nomination said Yankeelov “made it possible to have fun in an engineering course.” Adding, “It was one of the first courses that I felt really engaged in and excited to learn even though the material was really complex. He is such a positive energy. He cares about his students so much and goes above and beyond for them in every class. He makes class engaging and is always available. He offers great advice and any help he can to students even beyond what is required.”

“Tom’s enthusiasm and passion for his work and ability to articulate the technical aspects of computational science and oncology in a way that anyone can understand is a real gift, and makes him well-deserving of this award,” said Karen Willcox, Oden Institute Director.

Yankeelov said he was extraordinarily flattered and humbled and had to hold back tears. “It actually means a great deal to me. Though some of my students may think otherwise, I take teaching very seriously and try really hard to develop my own brand of "edu-tainment" to serve them.  So, when I found out I was selected for the award, it felt really, really good.  In fact, I am a little embarrassed by how good it felt,” he said.

The award is given in recognition of a faculty member who, first and foremost, has attained distinction in teaching undergraduates; and second, who embodies the Friar ideal in having made a significant contribution to the university beyond the duties of his or her calling.

University President Jay Hartzell, said Dr. Yankeelov embodies what is meant by the university tagline ‘change starts here.’ “He and his colleagues are approaching cancer research in ways that were previously considered radical and ineffective by the medical establishment. Now, his work to apply two seemingly disparate disciplines has put computational oncology on the map and established UT as a societal leader in this area of research that can truly impact the lives of so many people who suffer in some way due to this terrible disease.”


Eschewing a traditional headshot, Yankeelov shared his preferred portrait of himself, drawn by his son.

“I am so very blessed to get to teach some of the most amazing and talented and creative and funny students at one of the top engineering schools in the country. I honestly still cannot believe I get to do that. In fact, I spend most days expecting someone to come to my office and say, ‘Um, Tom, there's been a huge mistake...’  But be that as it may, learning that my efforts are appreciated and having some kind of positive affect, well... it almost makes spending my 20's in libraries under a pile of books worth it,” exclaimed Yankeelov.

The Friar Society, established in 1911, is the oldest and one of the most distinguished multi-disciplinary honor societies at UT Austin. The Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship was established by the Board of Regents on August 12, 1983, and is the largest undergraduate faculty award at UT Austin with an award of $30,000. Nominations may come from students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

In addition to a surprise announcement in the classroom, recipients were honored at an evening ceremony at the Harry Ransom Center during the Friar Spring Reception.