USF Professor Receives Prestigious Award

Autar Kaw receives the highest undergrad teaching honor from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and CASE.

USF Professor Autar Kaw holds his award, flanked by CASE President John Lippincott (left) and Carnegie Foundation President Anthony S. Bryk. Photo: Courtesy Daniel Peck Photography


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 15, 2012) – Autar Kaw, a University of South Florida mechanical engineering professor who was an early adopter of new technologies and social media to teach complex mathematical calculations, has been named a 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Kaw, a USF professor for 25 years, was feted Thursday in events at the National Press Club and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. He is one of four professors – selected from more than 300 nominees – to receive the award that is considered the nation’s highest honor for undergraduate teaching. Kaw was selected in the category of Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year.

Kaw was lauded for his innovative work in using technology and social media to reach tens of thousands of students around the world studying to be engineers. Known to engineering students around the world as the “Numerical Methods Guy”  through  his Holistic Numerical Methods Institute website, his blog and YouTube video lectures, Kaw has dedicated  his career to eliminating one of the most significant obstacles to engineering students being successful by providing students everywhere free access to supplemental lessons.

“The U.S. Professor of the Year award is the highest honor in the nation for undergraduate teaching and Dr. Kaw’s selection reaffirms what the University of South Florida and his students have long known about this exceptional professor and outstanding individual: his commitment to education and his dedication to his students knows no bounds,” said USF President Judy Genshaft.

 “His innovative and forward-thinking approach to education, his use of technology to expand learning opportunities around the world and his tireless pursuit of new and engaging teaching methods has made a lasting difference in the education and lives of his students.”

USF graduate Daniel Miller – a former student of Kaw’s who went on to create a patent-pending form of body armor with Kaw and co-author a book with the professor – was chosen to introduce the professor  at the ceremony.

“Dr. Kaw possesses all the qualities of a great educator; he is dedicated, innovative, motivated, and he is fair,” Miller said. “He displays genuine compassion for students and their development. He is a leader. When you are in one of his lectures, Dr. Kaw inspires you to learn, inspires you to seek more, and inspires you to ask questions. He is extremely talented in relaying information in a manner that sticks for life.”

Kaw celebrated his 25th anniversary as a USF professor this year. His professional honors abound: Kaw is a fellow in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a member of the American Society of Engineering Education. In 2011, he was awarded the National Outstanding Teaching Medal from the American Society for Engineering Education. A prolific writer, he has authored four text books and scores of academic articles.


Born in India, Kaw received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in India and his master’s and PhD in Engineering Mechanics from Clemson University.


Long before anyone started talking about online learning or Massive Online Open Courses—the so called “MOOCs” which are now taking higher education by storm—Kaw was exploring using technology to reach students. Kaw pursued funding for his idea for more than a decade before winning grants from the National Science Foundation to implement his concept. The reaction was immediate as students from around the world began clicking on his lessons.


Kaw said his use of technology stems from a basic concern for student learning: he saw students struggling with the same concepts semester after semester. If that was happening in his classroom, it was probably happening elsewhere, he surmised.


“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,” he said, explaining the genesis of his online learning initiatives.


“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. “


Kaw and colleagues eventually won funding from the National Science Foundation for their Internet-based courseware and have not looked back since.


“As much as some may think that this will be the end of the physical classroom or dismiss it for not being equivalent, I look at these resources as a way to complement the physical classroom,” he said.

USF alum Mike Denninger was one of Kaw’s students, a top student in high school who got a quick and rude awakening on the first quiz of his math class as a new engineering major. He went to see Kaw, and quickly learned that his professor not only wanted him to learn the material but wasn’t going to be satisfied until he was sure Denninger really had a full grasp of the material.

Denninger ended up getting an “A’ in the class, and going on to become the senior corporate director rides and engineering for Sea World.

““He has a way of breaking down advanced topics into understandable pieces. He does have this very sophisticated but humble manner,” Denninger said.  “He has a very deep respect for the student and what they are trying to do.”

Kaw was nominated for the award by USF Professor Rajiv Dubey, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who wrote of Kaw’s incredible connection with his students.

“I knew that undergraduates were very impressionable; but now I could tell why so many graduating seniors during exit interviews wanted to talk about the impact Dr. Kaw had on their lives and careers,” Dubey wrote. Read the full text of his nomination letter here.

Sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the awards recognize professors for their influence on teaching and commitment to undergraduate students. In addition to the four national winners, there are 30 state Professors of the Year award winners and one from the District of Columbia. Kaw was named the 2004 US Florida Professor of the Year

 Kaw celebrated Thursday with fellow honorees:

Christy Price, Outstanding Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year: Price is professor of psychology at Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga. She is a nationally recognized authority on innovative teaching techniques to engage millennial learners.

Lois Roma-Deeley, Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year: Roma-Deeley is professor of creative writing at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Ariz. She is an award-winning, published poet and a champion for creative writing programs at two-year institutions nationwide.

Todd Pagano, Outstanding Master’s Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year: Pagano is associate professor in the department of science and mathematics and director of the laboratory science program at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. He is a leading scholar of science education for deaf students and an advocate in the professional chemistry community for students, scientists and technicians with special needs.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.