Hari Balasubramanian and Daniel Holcomb Share the College Outstanding Teaching Award
Associate Professor Hari Balasubramanian of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and Associate Professor Daniel Holcomb of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department have been selected by the College of Engineering for its 2022-2023 College Outstanding Teaching Award (COTA), established by UMass Amherst as a college-level complement to the campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award. COTA awards are presented annually every spring semester, and each award consists of a $1,000 prize and a commemorative plaque.
As College of Engineering Dean Sanjay Raman said about the COTA award and this year’s winners, “We are deeply fortunate to have so many dedicated and exceptional faculty within the College of Engineering; faculty who inspire both their students and their communities to excellence. Please join me in congratulating Associate Professors Holcomb and Balasubramanian.”
Balasubramanian is a thoughtful, empathetic, and inspiring teacher. Across all sections and levels of industrial engineering courses, student evaluators have overwhelmingly praised him as an outstanding teacher. This praise is evidenced by his recognition by the students as the Industrial Engineering Professor of the Year a record number of five times.
Balasubramanian strives to make fundamental mathematical and statistical concepts, which are often abstract and opaque for students, accessible and stimulating for all by applying these concepts to projects with real-world data sets.
Balasubramanian further inspires his students and fosters deeper appreciation for the material by incorporating data sets and applications that have profound social impacts. For example, his research work has led to new healthcare approaches for medically underserved populations in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Camden, New Jersey. Consequently, Balasubramanian introduced this material as computational assignments in his undergraduate and graduate courses.
In addition, Balasubramanian has integrated the study of biodiversity conservation into his courses to demonstrate how engineering can make a positive impact on humanity. His teaching efforts have made a tremendous contribution to the MIE department and the College of Engineering.
Balasubramanian earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University and his B.E. in Production Engineering from the Regional Engineering College in Trichy, India.
Holcomb sets an example for outstanding teaching that combines motivation, communication, and empowerment. Within ECE, Holcomb teaches mezzanine-level courses on large-scale integrated circuits, embedded system design, and hardware security.
Outside of the classroom, Holcomb has initiated a number of educational activities, including an embedded capture-the-flag team at UMass, a campus-wide cybersecurity seminar series, and a Hack@DAC student security challenge.
Student evaluators say that, even though Holcomb has high expectations, he still recognizes the differences in students' classroom approaches. Holcomb’s inclusive style and friendly smile make for a welcoming classroom environment, where students feel they belong, thus resulting in more effective learning.
Holcomb enjoys a fine reputation among students. "Excellent teaching," as one student evaluator summed it up in comments, "as expected from Holcomb." Holcomb's teaching sets a strong example for the ECE department and the College of Engineering.
Holcomb also pointed out with tongue in cheek “that the IEEE student branch gave me the 2016 Faculty Best Hair award.” More seriously, he added that “I care deeply about the long-term success of my students as engineers.”
Before serving as a research fellow at the University of Michigan, Holcomb earned his Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley and his B.S. and M.S. at UMass Amherst. (March 2023)