Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award
Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award, sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, is presented as a surprise in the faculty member’s classroom, with the GSIs and other departmental faculty and staff present.

Anant Sahai of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is one of the four faculty members who received the award in April 2015. Laura Stoker, professor of political science and chair of the Graduate Council’s Faculty Committee for GSI Affairs, presented the award plaque.

The excerpts below reflect mentoring activities that the GSI found especially effective.

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Professor Sahai’s GSIs appreciated his skills in organizing a supportive environment in a large course:

One of the most significant challenges in such a large course was creating a small­ class directed learning environment despite the large number of students. Another challenge was the coordination and organization of such a large staff in order to keep both ends of the class running smoothly. With extensive management and mentoring, Professor Sahai made this goal realizable, and guided us to become better instructors in the process.
Professor Sahai provided a great example of how to create a course that is very challenging while still being fun and supportive of students’ emotional well-being. He told us that his motto for the course was ‘high expectations, high level of support’, meaning that assignments would be made at a fairly difficult level, but students would be given ample opportunity to interact with GSIs and each other and get as much help as they needed to learn the material.

GSIs highlighted Professor Sahai’s guidance in helping create course materials as an important component of his mentoring:

He actively involved all GSIs in the process of making discussion handouts, homeworks, and exams. Each week a group of GSIs would propose a set of problems for discussion and homework and he gave copious amounts of feedback. It would have been far easier for him to make the material himself but he wanted to make sure that everyone got a chance to practice making problems and to grow.
[Professor Sahai conducted] a weekly meeting with the content team where he would go over the assignments and worksheets we had made and gave specific feedback on each question. This feedback greatly improved my skills and helped me discern what makes a good assignment. He involved the entire course staff – both GSIs and undergraduate staff – in creating midterm and exam questions. He taught us to always think about things from a pedagogical standpoint and stressed the importance of looking at assignments and problems from a student’s perspective.

GSIs found Professor Sahai’s weekly meetings key in helping them develop inclusive teaching skills:

Prof. Sahai constantly encouraged us to think about how to reach the margins of the classroom. During our weekly staff meetings, we were encouraged to bring up any issues we were having in the classroom, and discuss them as a group. We discussed strategies for reaching weaker students, stronger students, students with disabilities, students with insufficient background, shy students, dominant students.… He encouraged us to have a unique style, so that students could find the discussion section or office hour that worked best for them.

GSIs summarized their experience with Professor Sahai as follows:

I have never seen a professor that cared so much about each and every one of his students as well as interacting on a personal level with all of his GSIs. He pushed the students hard and really forced them to learn and to explore their knowledge in a way that many students had never been exposed to.
He was a fantastic mentor to me and the other GSIs, and put a lot of time into ensuring that we left this experience knowing how to create course content, how to teach a class and manage a team of GSIs on a large scale, and how to make a class fun, challenging, and rewarding for students.