Arvin Agah, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Kansas, received the 2010 ING Excellence in Teaching Award during the home football game on Nov. 6.
“Professor Agah always finds challenging projects that force students to think for themselves and truly learn the material to succeed. His role is often a mentor who guides students toward success but never simply hands them the solution,” said Richard Stansbury, who had Agah as a professor and adviser as an undergraduate, graduate and doctoral student at KU. Stansbury, who finished his doctorate in 2007, is now an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Highlights from Agah’s classroom projects include a robot sumo wrestling competition in which student teams developed, built and programmed a robot able to force fellow classmates’ robots outside a 5-foot wide “wrestling mat.” He refereed the 72-match round robin tournament that was the final project for his Robot Intelligence course in 2008. Agah’s students won first place in the multi-university Cerner Corporation Software Design Competition in 2006. The Software Development Lifecycle course required students to develop software that could present, collect and analyze patient information on a specialized PDA for health care providers.
Christopher Gifford, who earned a doctorate from KU in 2009, had Agah as faculty adviser for the Space Robotics Challenge held at the 2008 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. The robotic system received multiple awards for its low-cost design and standout information processing and mapping capabilities. When Gifford and fellow graduate students came to Agah about the challenge, he created a special projects class for them. Gifford says Agah’s attention to the needs and interests of his students is part of what make him a great teacher. His guidance and support was instrumental to the success of the KU robotics team.
“Professor Agah’s courses are always hands-on, enabling the students to work on real problems and find real solutions,” said Gifford, now an information systems analyst at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “He puts an emphasis on the material as well as the experience, which becomes valuable when moving on to life beyond the classroom.”
KU graduate Shannon Skoglund is among the Perceptive Software staff that is co-teaching a graduate course on software engineering with Agah.
“I’m very impressed with Professor Agah’s willingness to reach out to companies in the area and try innovative ways of teaching a class,” Skoglund said. “I think the real-world exposure is both rare and very valuable in a university setting.”
Agah was associate chair for graduate studies for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from 2005 to 2009. During his time as associate chair, Agah oversaw a number of graduate students who were nominated for and received prestigious Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowships.
This is the eighth year that the ING award has recognized outstanding teaching on the Lawrence campus. The global financial institution offers banking, investments, life insurance and retirement services to more than 85 million clients.
“I am extremely humbled and honored to receive this award,” Agah said.