Kavita Bala, CS, James and Mary Tien Award
Kavita Bala finds the boundless enthusiasm and creativity of students to be inspiring. "I enjoy interacting with students and sharing their excitement about the knowledge they are gaining," she says. "As you stay longer in a field, teaching the basics reminds you about the excitement of important ideas that you have long since internalized but which are new to the students."
Bala's own excitement for the subjects she teaches clearly comes across to her students as well. "[Kavita's] enthusiastic presentation helped us stay engaged," reads an evaluation from one of her computer graphics courses.
Bala strives to nurture her students' love of learning with open-ended assignments and projects that give them an opportunity to be creative. "While these assignments are harder to create and grade, I find that students get so inspired by such assignments that they go the extra mile to do a great job and learn more in the bargain," she says.
One of Bala's fondest teaching memories is of a somewhat difficult assignment she designed that took the students many hours to complete. She and her teaching assistants would often answer questions through 4 a.m. and start again at 6 a.m. "While the students had to work hard on that assignment they both appreciated the effort we put, and almost uniformly finished the assignment and did well in it," she says. "After the assignment—and final grade assignments in class—we continued to get emails from the students both thanking the staff for our efforts, and telling us how much they learned from the assignment and how thrilled they were when they finally saw their project work."
Keeping students with varying degrees of preparation interested can by challenging, says Bala, but getting everyone involved helps. "The hardest part for me is trying to figure out a way to simultaneously engage students at all levels" she says. "I like to have interactive classes and try to encourage student participation."
Bala's lecture style has earned the admiration of her department chair. "She is a natural public speaker and has a talent for keeping the 'pulse' of the class, adjusting what she is presenting to keep the class with her," writes CS Chair Eva Tardos in her nomination letter.
Tardos singles out Bala's improvements to CS3410 (formerly CS316), a course in basic computer architecture and systems programming that is crucial for CS majors. "Kavita added extremely valuable modern content and experience on using multi-core machines," writes Tardos. "She took the course from one where multi-core is mentioned in some of the lectures, to a course where programming in a multi-core environment is the core of the course."
"The processor project was probably the best project I've ever had, perfect level of challenge and time needed to complete it. Also it was a very 'real-world' project, by that I mean I know I'll need to use that information in jobs and stuff," reads one evaluation from the course. "That project single-handedly revived my interest and excitement about computer science."
"It is great to see that Kavita Bala was able to adapt the course to current technology," reads another evaluation. "The coverage of CPUs and parallel computing was great. It has a REAL impact in today's world."