New York: Autar Kaw, 52, a Mechanical Engineering professor at the University of South Florida has won the prestigious “2012 US Professor of the Year” award. Kaw, known as the “Numerical Methods Guy,” makes complex mathematical equations lucid for engineering students beyond his classroom though his popular website (here) and YouTube video lectures (here).
Kaw says he begins the semester as the “sage on the stage” and then slowly moves to the “guide on the side,” increasing students’ confidence and independence.
“My main motive is to explain some intricacies of numerical methods in plain English and non-acadamese language,” says Kaw.
Kaw was selected from among nearly 300 top professors across America for the award presented by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Three other American professors were recognized along with Kaw for their commitment to undergraduate studies.
Kaw, who was born and raised in India, received his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in engineering mechanics from Clemson University in South Carolina and credits his students with the award.
“I wouldn’t be able to teach without them,” Kaw told Northwest News and Tribune.
“Their questions, their dialogues challenge me to work harder. That improves my own teaching and I’m able to bring it to the classroom the next semester,” said Kaw.
When he started teaching in 1987, Kaw embraced technology and never looked back. Today, he uses his blog (here), Twitter account (@numericalguy) and YouTube videos to answer student questions and demystify engineering theories. He utilised grants from the National Science Foundation to flesh out his online learning initiative. Now, students from around the world, including India, China and Europe, click on his well-planned lessons.
“When I started teaching a course in numerical methods in 1988, students would ask me questions in class for which the answers could not be given on the spot, as they would involve lengthy calculations,” Kaw told The Times of India.
“A few times, I would assign such questions as mini-projects and most times, I would write short computer programs to find answers to their questions. This led me to thinking that I should write simulation programs for a course in Numerical Methods, and since my fellow instructors in other universities must be asked similar questions, why not send these programs to them on a bunch of disks,” added Kaw.
As a graduate student, Kaw felt the enormous impact of his college professors and gravitated towards teaching. ”I was able to see how professors were able to make a difference, not only by teaching people but also by creating new knowledge,” said Kaw.