Passion for Teaching Gets Rewarded

“By far the best TA I’ve had at Yale. I’ve never had a TA who cares about helping students so much and who really tries to get them to enjoy engineering.” So says a student from EENG 202: Communications, Computation, and Control, a class taught by Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering & Statistics Sekhar Tatikonda (whose teaching was honored last spring)—and by teaching fellow and biomedical engineering doctoral candidate Alp Kucukelbir.

In recognition of his classroom success, the university has awarded Kucukelbir a Prize Teaching Fellowship for 2013-2014. One of the university’s most important graduate student awards, Prize Teaching Fellowships “recognize outstanding performance and promise as a teacher” based on nominations from undergraduate students and supervising faculty. “Teaching,” says Kucukelbir, “is an integral component of understanding and discovery. I feel that I have truly understood a topic only when I can successfully teach it.”

The students nominating Kucukelbir often found him coaching students long after office hours were over. Moreover, when his class was struggling with new material, he created “a four-page long document worthy of textbook publication to explain the concept,” including thorough subtopics and numbered equations. One student nominator also wrote that Kucukelbir has a talent for “keeping a class interested [through] his enthusiasm about his work.”

After he graduates, Kucukelbir hopes to continue in academia as a “professor who cares both about cutting-edge research and effective teaching.” In addition to his teaching experience and recent research publications, he’s prepared for that career by enrolling in the academic track of the Advanced Graduate Leadership Program.

“I’ve learned so much from my teachers and a surprising amount of it had nothing to do with the course material,” he says. “Things like why it’s important to speak precisely and thoughtfully, how to handle delicate situations in public, what it really means to be an engineer, and—dare I even go this far—how to be a good person. Now as a teacher myself, just receiving news of a student doing something great with her life—it makes me feel like I have a tangible impact on the future.”