The Alan J. Perlis SCS Student Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)


Aaditya Ramdas
2015 Graduate Student Teaching Award

Oddly enough, all I did to deserve this award was just have an untamed enthusiasm for wanting to contribute to teaching and learning in every way possible. The real credit for my award should go to those who created an atmosphere where enthusiastic students like myself can blossom. Let me now convince you that my teaching award should actually be seen as a lesson on how to run a course, how to lead a department, and how to foster an open creative atmosphere.

When I was a teaching assistant for Convex Optimization for its second consecutive offering, the instructor common to both offerings, Ryan Tibshirani, allowed me to actively participate in the design and planning of the course, incorporating anonymous student feedback obtained from the first offering. During the summer before the course, I helped the instructors rehash the syllabus, reorder the contents, add modern mater- ial, and plan flexible assignments for covering breadth and depth of both theory and practice, while allowing sufficient flexibility for designing homework questions, recitation topics and course project directions. It is very rare to find a professor so willing to let a student have such a large effect on his/her course offering, and I grew tremendously from this experience.

The ML department's flagship introductory course has about 400 students enrolled each semester from varied departments, making it challenging to adapt to the varying mathematical backgrounds and student interests. Last summer I asked Tom Mitchell if the department could purchase a tablet to help me and others record videos to address this problem. With full faith in my idea, Tom immediately approved the request and in the following week, I created 12 short "review videos" on varied topics, which now have thousands of views in total, and were positively received by the faculty, TAs and students. Independently, I wanted to organize a "student research symposium" with student spotlight talks, a poster session and a faculty panel discussion - once more, Tom instantly approved this proposal, and the student-run event ended up being a big success. It is very rare to find department heads who are willing to let students take the lead, and I have greatly benefited from the culture that Tom has created in the department.

Other professors in the department also share the above friendly attitude. When I formed an education review committee, I suggested changing the course requirements for PhD students, making them more flexible. This new proposed policy, drafted by the students, was unanimously approved by the faculty, and was immediately implemented. This supportiveness permeates through the school, from our department mom Diane Stidle, to my non-pressuring advisors Aarti Singh and Larry Wasserman, to Mary Widom who encouraged me to reach out to the youth by participating in Andrew's Leap and Technights, to the excellent staff of the Future Faculty program in the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence from whom I have learnt about the art and science of teaching.

One cannot underemphasize the importance of an open-minded atmosphere that freely promotes crea-tivity with a lack of hierarchy or seniority. I will sorely miss CMU, and especially MLD, which is a fantastic place to improve not only our research skills but also our teaching skills, and even further our personality and humanity, if we grasp the opportunities that come our way, or indeed dream to create opportunities out of thin air.

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