Curtis awards demonstrate the importance of our PhD students

April 25, 2022

Photos of the recipients
Left to right, Michael Chavrimootoo, Shoieb Ahmed Chowdhury, Andrew Hahn, and Kevin Ling.

Chavrimootoo, Chowdhury, Hahn, and Ling help undergrads thrive in classrooms, labs

Four Hajim School PhD students are among the 2022 recipients of the University’s Edward Peck Curtis Awards for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student. The awards are given to a small number of full-time graduate students who have a role in undergraduate education. Recipients have assisted in undergraduate instruction and have had significant face-to-face interaction with undergraduates in the classroom or laboratory.

Winners are selected by the vice provost and University dean of graduate studies based on nominations from individual departments or undergraduate student groups.

This year’s recipients include:

Michael Chavrimootoo

PhD candidate in the research group of Lane Hemaspaandra, professor of computer science.

Chavrimootoo received Hemaspaandra’s “unqualified, wildly enthusiastic” support for this award. “As a TA, as an instructor, and as someone who has worked closely with our undergraduate students in the world of research, he is without peer in my 33+ years here,” Hemaspaandra says. For example, during the zoom-only Spring 2021 semester, Chavrimootoo was “spectacular” as TA in CSC 280, offering office hours each day and ensuring access to videos for students in different time zones to keep students on track. Chavrimootoo consistently receives high praise from students. “He encourages input from undergraduates, and I have always felt that my ideas were valued,” one student wrote. “He was especially good at openly considering answers that were not standard, at times even communicating them to the professor, which made me feel especially heard,” another student wrote. 

Shoieb Ahmed Chowdhury

PhD student in the lab of Hesam Askari, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. 

“Shoieb exemplifies the best characteristics of a teacher,” Askari says. “It amazes me how he adjusts his tone and body language to connect better with the students. He uses a soft tone, listens well, and describes underlying concepts in a simple language. He never outsmarts the students with his expressions and jargons.” Above all, Chowdhury uses intuition to help explain complicated equations.

Chowdhury has helped undergraduates thrive in two of the most challenging courses in the department, the heavily math-based Engineering Mechanics II Dynamics—”arguably the gatekeeper” in determining whether students will thrive in the major—and Finite Elements, which teaches robust computational tools and  has become one of the most popular graduate level courses taken by undergraduates.

Andrew Hahn ’20 ‘21MS

PhD student in the lab of professors Michael Huang (advisor) and Zeljko Ignjatovic in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Here’s an example of why Hahn is the “most sought-after TA” in the department:

When María Helguera, a retired RIT professor was invited to teach ECE 241 signals as an adjunct professor last fall, Hahn quickly stood out among the four TAs assigned to her. He consistently provided examples to help illustrate what was taught. The final project, assembling oscilloscope kits, required soldering skills that students had not acquired because classes had been online. Hahn took the lead in building a test oscilloscope, organized tutoring for the other TAs, and put together instructions for students. The project was a success.

Thanks to Hahn, Helguera’s experience teaching a new course on a new campus “was much smoother that what it could have been,” she says. “Andrew Hahn was not only my teaching assistant; he was my guide and I am very grateful for his help.”

Kevin Ling

PhD candidate in the lab of Danielle Benoit, professor of biomedical engineering.

Two years ago, the department asked James McGrath to include a new unit on CAD (computer aided design) in his BME201 course on Fundamentals of Biomechanics. For many students, the course is the “first rigorous engineering course they take,” McGrath says.

Last fall, Ling volunteered to take the lead on the project. He carefully defined objectives and subtasks for two assignments, and delivered “two motivating, smart, and focused lectures to the class,” McGrath says. Ling worked tirelessly with students one-on-one to answer every question, and allowed them to describe their own problems and solutions for one of the assignments.

“Kevin’s work in BME201 has improved our undergraduate program in a lasting way,” McGrath writes. “BME students will have a working knowledge of an engineering skill that will benefit them at the University and well into their careers.”