Sindhu Kutty receives Jon R. and Beverly S. Holt Award for Excellence in Teaching

Her aim has been to combine the personal attention afforded to students at small liberal arts colleges with the resource-rich experience that a leading research university provides.
Sindhu Kutty
Dr. Sindhu Kutty

Dr. Sindhu Kutty, a teaching faculty in CSE, has been awarded the College of Engineering Jon R. and Beverly S. Holt Award for Excellence in Teaching for 2022-2023 for her demonstrated and sustained excellence as an educator.

Kutty is well known for her work both in and beyond the classroom to provide a personalized education for students in a department such as CSE, where most of the teaching is at scale. She previously taught at Swarthmore College, a prestigious liberal arts college.

At Michigan, Kutty regularly teaches large classes, including EECS 376 (Foundations of Computer Science) and EECS 445 (Introduction to Machine Learning), and often has over 200 students in her classes. And yet, she has implemented several techniques to make education more personalized for her students, including inspiring them to pursue research. She is also known for her infectious enthusiasm in the classroom.

Kutty regularly engages students during lectures, incorporating practice problems into lecture and walking through the classroom to make herself available to students with questions. She makes it clear to students that she is able to meet with them outside the classroom as well to provide additional assistance if needed. 

In one example, a student said, “Professor Kutty was the first professor I reached out to because she had such a clear willingness and desire to help her students. She had time allotted specifically for meeting with individual students, and re-emphasized in class multiple times her ability to help if wanted. While other professors were open to meeting with students, Professor Kutty went above and beyond by repeatedly and actively encouraging her students to reach out to her.”

Personally mentoring undergraduate students is a key component of her work as an educator. Kutty has introduced a large number of students to research. Her undergraduate students routinely coauthor work that they publish and present at workshops and conferences. In the last four years, five separate projects mentored by her have won awards in national and international student research competitions. Kutty is a faculty advisor for MSAIL, a student run organization  focused on AI and Machine Learning. She also advises students in industry sponsored work run through the Multidisciplinary Design Program. 

Many of these undergraduate students are women, an under-represented population in computer science. When asked about Kutty, they quickly speak of her encouragement and guidance and how it has helped them become more confident and go on to graduate studies.

On this point, one student said, “As a woman in a male-dominated field, I tend to feel I need to qualify my conclusions and focus on what I could do better rather than highlight what I have accomplished. So, most helpful of all, Dr. Kutty consistently reinforced that I can make stronger assertions about our work and that I should be proud of all the work we’ve done so far. This helped me be confident in speaking about our work and I felt like I could spend more time engaging in fruitful discussions with conference attendees rather than worrying about whether what I had was interesting enough for them. In fact, working with Dr. Kutty and having her support for the last couple years has made me a much more confident person and I feel I have been more successful in my studies as a result.”

Kutty cares deeply about providing an inclusive environment for learning. She has modified examples used in lecture to incorporate inclusive teaching and has had success in developing a diverse team of student instructors. She is also active in promoting inclusivity beyond the classroom and has recently initiated a project to assess, evaluate, and ultimately intervene to address any negative experiences of undergraduate teaching assistants and graders. She is also part of an organizing committee to improve the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community at CSE.

Sindhu Kutty holds a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. She joined the faculty at CSE in 2018, after holding faculty positions at University of Detroit Mercy and Swarthmore College.