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Kuo’s entire class crowded to the front of the room to have their photo taken with him holding the crystal apple, symbol of the top teacher on campus. Photo by Patrick O’Donnell

Recognizing Excellence in Teaching

Jeff Kuo Knew His Teaching Philosophy Before He Was a Teacher

Jeff Kuo, professor of civil and environmental engineering, formed his teaching philosophy before he even began his teaching career at Cal State Fullerton in 1991, and it has paid off for his students.

While working in industry, “I supervised a number of engineers who could do engineering calculations well, but they often lacked common sense in engineering,” said Kuo. “To prepare my students better for the job market, I always emphasize both theories and practical applications.”

Joining in congratulating Kuo were, from left, Prasada Rao, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering; Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS); Scott Hewitt, chair of the Academic Senate; President Milton Gordon; Ephraim Smith, vice president of Academic Affairs; and Susamma Barua, ECS associate dean. Photo by Patrick O’Donnell

The engineer encourages his students to conduct research and enter national competitions. He has had students collaborate on and co-author 15 published technical papers. A name on a published paper is considered high-value currency among engineers.

His approach has produced benefits that go beyond the classroom. “Lots of my students have contacted me and expressed their gratitude for what they have learned from my classes after they started their professional careers.”

That was certainly confirmed last Thursday night, when President Milton A. Gordon — followed by a group of administrators, faculty members and representatives of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers — strode unannounced into Kuo’s classroom and announced, “Your faculty member has won the Carol Barnes Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award for 2009-2010.”

Then Gordon paused and asked the class, “He is an excellent teacher, isn’t he?” receiving resounding affirmation.

Before handing Kuo the crystal apple, symbolic of one of the top awards for teaching the campus can give a faculty member, Gordon asked, “Is he a great mentor?” That received a resounding “Yes!”

Ephraim Smith, vice president for academic affairs, said, “Carol Barnes was here for many years and was an outstanding classroom teacher. This award honors your teaching.”

Kuo, wreathed in grins, said, “This is great! I feel great. This is great!”

Jeff Kuo. Photo by Patrick O’Donnell

“Dr. Jeff Kuo has an exceptional background in engineering. His work is superb and relevant to the mission of the department and the college and his teaching. As an excellent instructor, distinguished researcher and a valued colleague, he is certainly qualified to receive the Carol Barnes Faculty Excellence in Teaching award,” said Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The knowledge I gained from taking Dr. Kuo’s courses has been invaluable at my work place,” said Bonita Fan, a former graduate student in environmental studies.

“He not only taught us concepts,” said the senior environmental compliance officer for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, “but offered examples that made the concepts easy to apply in real-life situations. He is a font of knowledge [and] cares about his students. He encourages everyone to do their best.”

Graduating senior Karen Nguyen, president of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, agrees. “Information taught in his courses can be applied in the field. His creative style of teaching makes it fun, interesting and simple for students to follow. Dr. Kuo is passionate, enthusiastic and cheerful about his field of study and it has been a pleasure to have him as a professor. He connects with his students on a personal level.”

Current student evaluations echo those sentiments. “Patient,” “knowledgeable,” “wise” and “passionate” are common words. One prophetic student said, “He’s one of the best!”

Colleagues are equally lavish in their praise.

Unnikrishnan wrote in his letter of support for Kuo’s nomination, “He has consistently excelled in teaching courses in his specialty, environmental engineering.” Courses in waste technology and management, air pollution control and coastal pollution engineering “bear his personal commitment to the field. Without him, none of these courses could be offered in the department.

“His dedication to this students is well known,” the dean continued. “His teaching scores are consistently excellent. … He has developed new courses and has striven hard to maintain currency of course materials and lab infrastructure.”

Prasada Rao, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering, said evaluating teaching performance in engineering courses requires specific, stringent benchmarks, one of them being whether students who take his courses can qualify for internships in civil engineering companies.

“Jeff’s classes score high,” Rao said simply and to the point. “His dedication to the students and the direct relevance of his course content to modern engineering techniques motivates students to take as many courses as possible with him.”

The Cerritos resident has published more than 100 technical papers, as well as the book “Practical Design Calculations for Groundwater and Soil Remediation,” published by CRC Press LLC-Lewis Publisher in 1999. His groundbreaking technical journal, which classifies a massive volume of information on non-CO2 greenhouse gases and ways to address them, is posted on the California Air Resources Board website at The board funded the effort.

The Barnes winner has given presentations at locations as far reaching as Toronto, Germany and China.

Kuo was named the campus’s American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter Professor of the Year for 2006-07. In addition, Kuo was named the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement Professor of the Year for 2003-04, and an Engineering and Computer Science Distinguished Faculty in 2006.

For four years, Kuo served on the California Board of Professional Engineers and Surveyors’ technical advisory committee for civil engineering. As a member of the Water Environment Federation, he served on its air quality impacts committee, task force on hazardous waste site remediation management and, since 1996, its literature review committee. Kuo also served on the gasket committee of the American Standard and Testing Materials for two years.

In addition to a doctorate, Kuo has master’s degrees in environmental engineering and petroleum from USC, as well as a master’s in chemical engineering from the University of Wyoming. His bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is from National Taiwan University.

Kuo will be recognized as the Barnes Award winner at Honors Convocation, held on the eve of the May 22-23 commencement ceremonies.

Award Named for Noted Educator

The Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award, named after an emeritus professor of elementary and bilingual education, was created in 2005 and recognizes faculty members who demonstrate academic rigor and excellence in teaching. The inaugural recipient of the award was Raphael J. Sonenshein, professor of political science, for 2005-06. Other recipients: Michael Loverude, associate professor of physics, 2008-09; Scott Annin, associate professor of mathematics, 2007-08; and Melinda Blackman, associate professor of psychology, 2006-07.

Media Contact:
Russ L. Hudson, Public Affairs, 657-278-4007 or