April 14, 2006

Sanjeev Kumar named SIUC's outstanding teacher

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Sanjeev Kumar, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the University's outstanding teacher this academic year.

A $7,500 cash prize matched by $7,500 in professional development support, a wristwatch and a framed certificate accompany the honor, part of SIUC Chancellor Walter V. Wendler's "Excellence Through Commitment Awards Program" established two years ago. A dinner to honor all of the program's winners will take place Thursday, April 27.

Kumar's teaching specialties include soil mechanics, foundation design, soil dynamics, earthquake engineering, soil improvement, advanced soil mechanics, soil-structure interaction, environmental geotechnology, earth pressure and retaining walls, geotechnical engineering in professional practice, and measurement of soil properties.

"Dr. Sanjeev had more than 10 years of industry experience before joining the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in fall of 1998 as an assistant professor," wrote Hasan Sevim, associate dean of engineering, in a letter supporting Kumar's candidacy for the award.

"He is one of the few faculty members who could use that experience very effectively in academia…He (is also) able to translate the knowledge he gained in his research projects into his classroom. That, in my opinion, is one of the major reasons why his students find him so interesting in the classroom."

Kumar developed four new courses for SIUC, including one unique to the University on geotechnical engineering in professional practice. He revamped the capstone design course to include significant interaction between the students and practicing professionals and to introduce students to principles of project development, design and management similar to those employed in real-world firms. He also focused on problem-based learning and using interactive teaching technology, and he published course notes for two undergraduate courses to save students from having to buy textbooks.

The American Society of Civil Engineering is marketing two peer-reviewed instructional DVDs on geotechnical engineering that Kumar produced. Royalties go to SIUC to enhance undergraduate education.

"My goals as a teacher are to provide the best education to my students, bring industry and academia a step closer, prepare the students to enter the workforce with confidence and make them productive engineers and thoughtful citizens in society," Kumar wrote in summarizing his teaching goals.

Outside the classroom, Kumar maintains four Web sites for undergraduate courses, serves as a mentor to engineering freshmen and participates in an outreach program aimed at introducing engineering to public school students.

He also regularly includes undergraduates in his research. He has had eight of them as research assistants and published eight technical articles — three in peer-reviewed international journals and five in international conference proceedings — with undergraduate co-authors.

In the last two years, he received the top score in his college in student evaluations for undergraduate teaching. In that same period, graduating seniors ranked him tops in his department, writing such comments as "He is 100 on a five-point scale," "Best teacher I ever had," "I am getting my money's worth, "Real-world examples were great," "Cares deeply that students understand the material," and "Hard tests but learned a lot."

Kumar says, "My job as a teacher is to assess the level of skills an individual student possesses, and the knowledge, both practical and theoretical, he or she needs to accept the challenge of real-world projects. During this process some parts are enjoyable, and the others may be more challenging and frustrating. My responsibility is to make students realize that success comes by accepting and overcoming the challenges rather than ruminating on the challenges."

Kumar was his department's outstanding teacher last year and in 2003. In 2002, he also received an engineering college teaching award based on student evaluations.

Kumar joined the faculty in 1998, received promotions to associate and then full professor in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1986 from the Institution of Engineers in India and his master's and doctorate in 1993 and 1996 respectively from the University of Missouri-Rolla.

Seeking and celebrating faculty excellence are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Sanjeev Kumar

Sanjeev Kumar
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