Giri Venkataramanan believes that learning involves doing. A hallmark of his classes is the balance of instructional material with practical application. Within his project-based pedagogy, his students gain hands-on experience building products from battery chargers to wind turbines. On evaluations, students describe his courses as “a pleasure,” “a class that really makes you think like an engineer,” and “the most practical, applicable course I’ve ever taken.”
In addition to practical projects, he is known for his knowledgeable, fluent and engaging lectures—which he typically delivers without having to refer to notes, even in a 75-minute class.
A colleague who assessed Venkataramanan’s teaching said, “I was struck by his mastery of both the course content and the instructional materials.” Unimpressed with available textbooks, he prepares notes in the form of technical papers to complement his lectures.
Students on campus and off know they always can find help and advice from the man they call “Professor Giri.” He is remarkably invested in his students, quick to respond to E-mail, and available to help any student who seeks it. He also makes a special effort to interact with distance-learning students, videotaping all his lectures for off-campus pupils.
Venkataramanan is a member of the electrical and computer engineering curriculum committee, was a member of the UW-Madison provost’s committee on evaluating and developing campus-wide guidelines for resources for teaching and learning excellence, and has given more than 40 presentations and workshops about interdisciplinary teaching.
While on a recent sabbatical, Venkataramanan participated in wind-turbine-building projects in rural areas of four countries. His experiences inspired him to develop curriculum that allows students to explore community-based sustainable energy solutions. In spring 2007, he taught a section of Introduction to Engineering (InterEgr 160) that focused on small-scale wind turbines. Students in the course not only learned about the engineering principles of wind energy but also built wind turbines. Such coursework is the beginning of a movement toward a Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability, an initiative that Venkataramanan is spearheading.
“I think that these projects can be seen as a new application of the Wisconsin Idea to integrate research, teaching and outreach in energy conversion in a way that can attract and energize students to use engineering to change lives,” says a colleague. “I think that Giri is opening up a new context for engineering education that realizes and renews the traditions of our university.”