Aaron Keen receives Cal Poly Distinguished Teaching Award
Cal Poly Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Aaron Keen credits his preparation, availability and attention to students for receiving the 2019-2020 Cal Poly Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA) at the Fall Conference in mid-September.
“I believe what many of my students really appreciate is the time that I give to them outside of lectures, whether that be in lab, in office hours, through email, or on the Q&A forums,” he said. “Though I aim to hold lectures wherein everybody can participate, it is the individual, one-on-one support that can really make the difference for some students.”
Judging from the comments in the nomination letters from students — only students, alumni, and those who have been influenced most by faculty are eligible to submit DTA nominations — Keen is clearly making a difference.
A sampling from the nominations:
“His teaching style is beyond exceptional. I took my first course with him during my third year and have jumped on every opportunity since to take others with him.”
“Dr. Keen is one of the most prepared and knowledgeable professors that I’ve had.”
“He is adaptable in his teaching style and very empathetic to student needs.”
“I’m always surprised and proud of what I accomplished during Dr. Keen’s courses.”
“He cares about teaching to the best of his abilities and helping students learn what they need to. Cal Poly is very lucky to have him.”
Another theme that emerged from the nominations from students — only students, alumni, and those who have been influenced most by faculty are eligible to submit DTA nominations — was Keen’s ability to explain complex material.
Said one student in their nomination: “He makes difficult concepts appear simple by breaking large concepts down into smaller, understandable parts.” Another wrote: “Professor Keen has the ability to translate challenging course material into manageable, understandable concepts.”
Keen, who said the award was “a wonderful surprise and a great honor,” began teaching at Cal Poly in 2002 after graduating with bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science from UC Davis. Although Keen said he sometimes tutored friends and fellow students, he never imagined a future in teaching until he was a graduate student.
“Like many people, I was always terribly afraid of public speaking,” said Keen, “I had the opportunity to teach my first class when my department needed a course in my area of study covered and my advisor recommended me. That experience provided an opportunity to prove that teaching was something I could do.”
Despite the recognition, Keen, who became a full professor at Cal Poly in 2015, said he’s still not fond of spending time at the lectern.
“I would not say I’ve really overcome that fear,” he said, “But you don’t really have a choice when teaching.”