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College of Engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Ram Krishnan

Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award winner 2015

Ram Krishnan

Ram Krishnan

Ram Krishnan, assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, knows what it takes to be a good teacher. “Thinking back, at every stage in my student life, all the way back from middle school, I can remember at least one person from each stage who really was a rock star teacher and who defined my thinking approach during that time. Those teachers made me who I am today,” Krishnan said. “And I want to be like them. It is just amazing when someone has put in the effort and time to figure out a complicated topic and then present it in a way that one can easily understand. A great teacher provides you the information you need to advance your own knowledge.”

And taking lessons from his former mentors, Krishnan himself is now leading the way in teaching excellence. The University of Texas System named him one of the recipients of the 2015 Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award. And as a Regent’s winner, Krishnan was inducted into the UTSA Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars in September.

“I’ve had Dr. Krishnan for two classes now and have learned so much from him,” said Barbara Davila, a graduate student in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He presents the material in such a way that it will stay in your mind. He walks into class with such a smile that it deems him a perfect balance of respect and approachability. If it had not been for his class, I would have not realized the joy in programming. His teaching philosophy inspires and he is an outstanding professor. There is no one that deserves this award more than him.”

The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards are the Board of Regents’ highest honor. The awards are offered annually in recognition of faculty members at the nine academic and six health University of Texas System institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction. With a monetary award of $25,000, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards are among the largest in the nation for rewarding outstanding faculty performance.

Faculty members undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels consider a range of activities and criteria in their evaluations of a candidate’s teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes. A thread running through Krishnan’s evaluations is that he is a great communicator in the classroom.

"Even just talking to someone you know very well, it can be hard to communicate. And trying to communicate with a general body of a student population - it takes a great amount of creativity and effort. When you are successful - it is just one of the happiest moments when you see the face of a student and you can tell that they understand."
- Ram Krishnan

“Even just talking to someone you know very well, it can be hard to communicate,” Krishnan said. “And trying to communicate with a general body of a student population, it takes a great amount of creativity and effort. And when you are successful, it is just one of the happiest moments when you see the face of a student and you can tell that they understand.”

Craig Rodriguez, UTSA graduate and telecommunications engineer with Texas Utility Engineering One, took classes with Krishnan. He said that one of the most important and impressive attributes to Krishnan’s style of teaching lies in his patience.

“Although the curriculum was quite difficult, encompassed much information and many concepts, and, in the case of the Android App Development class, was brand new, Dr. Krishnan took the time to make sure every student in his well-attended lectures understood the concepts clearly before moving on,” said Rodriguez. “He has an exceptional ability to take complicated, murky notions and make them clear concepts. Dr. Krishnan is a remarkable educator of the highest caliber and his dedication to true understanding in his students is a rare gift to all Roadrunners fortunate enough to learn from his guidance.”

In addition to being passionate about teaching, Krishnan is also passionate about his research, and he tries to integrate both of these aspects together.

“Your teaching informs your research, and your research informs your teaching,” he said. “Sometimes it is some of the most simple questions that students pose that can lead to really interesting research questions. I tend to think in one way, and it is a great way to get the students’ perspective.”

Researching cloud computing technology

In addition to being an amazing teacher, Ram Krishnan is also a talented researcher. His research on securing cloud computing systems is currently funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), totaling more than $1 million.

According to Krishnan, commercial enterprises and governmental organizations like the DoD have recognized the benefit of operating their compute infrastructure on a cloud-based platform due to major cost savings and operational efficiency. However, properly securing their resources on a cloudbased infrastructure is a major issue.

Krishnan says that the goal of the NSF-funded project is to develop a security mechanism where each cloud customer could maintain a level of control over their virtual assets in the cloud that is comparable to the level of control that was possible to maintain via their own premises. The DoD-funded project focuses on multi-level security in cloud.

"With an entity like the Department of Defense, you have various levels of sensitivity of data and computation," Krishnan said. "The cloud is by definition a shared platform. One of the goals of this research is to provide clients with the capability to dynamically control the degree of sharing across different levels of sensitivity. Providing this capability while also maintaining the benefits of cloud computing is a challenging problem."

And not only will his research benefit the DoD, it will also benefit UTSA.

"Cloud computing is a multi-billion dollar industry," Krishnan said. "It has become an indispensable technology today, and it cuts across many disciplines. This project will allow UTSA faculty and students to address cyber security issues in cloud computing technology, a critical issue for an organization as it employs cloud. This project will also help develop a rigorous curriculum on cloud computing security at UTSA, thereby training many UTSA students in this state-of-the-art technology."

Krishnan is collaborating with UTSA College of Sciences’ Ravi Sandhu who is the executive director of The Institute for Cyber Security. Krishnan and Sandhu started their research last fall and expect to complete these projects by fall 2018.

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