Engineering Professor Honored for Teaching Excellence

When Professor Jeff Kuo was celebrated recently with the university’s top honor for teaching excellence, he was pleased and proud. But the notes, calls and letters he receives from former students gratify him even more, because then he knows firsthand that he has been effective in and outside the classroom.

Kuo received the 2009-10 Carol Barnes Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award in May. President Milton A. Gordon, a group of administrators, faculty members and representatives of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers strode into Kuo’s classroom to present the award, symbolized by a crystal apple.

The Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award is named after a professor emerita of elementary and bilingual education. The award was created in 2005 and recognizes faculty members who demonstrate both academic rigor and excellence in teaching.

Following a successful career in engineering, Kuo found that he craved an academic setting where he could interact with students and transfer his experiences to them. He has taught full-time in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department since 1995.

“My teaching philosophy has to do with common sense,” Kuo said. “Students can learn from books, but it’s sometimes hard for them to use common sense. What I want to do here is have them make sense of the numbers, not just do pure calculations.”

He particularly enjoys helping struggling students, because they’re so appreciative of his efforts. “Teaching isn’t easy,” Kuo said. “I’ve had to adjust my teaching as I’ve learned from the students. Students teach us to be flexible, to recognize their needs.”

Students say his blend of professional and academic knowledge plus a healthy sense of humor make learning tough subjects easier.

“Immediately you recognize that he’s extremely intelligent and knows what he’s doing. I have great respect for him,” said Chris Repp ’06 (M.S. civil and environmental engineering), now a civil engineering associate with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “He has lots of credentials, and he can answer any question you can come up with. He’s very respectful and cares about the students. Plus, he’s a pleasant guy to be around. He has a light sort of mood in his classroom.”

Kuo encourages his students to conduct research and enter national competitions. He has had students collaborate on and co-author 15 published technical papers. He has published more than 100 technical papers of his own as well as the book “Practical Design Calculations for Groundwater and Soil Remediation.”

“Dr. Kuo is among the best professors on the Cal State Fullerton campus,” said Keyur Ajmera, an undergraduate civil engineering student. “The way he teaches class and how he presents the material makes even the toughest material seem easy.”

Of course, Kuo’s research efforts, often involving students, make him a standout faculty member as well.

Kuo is one of two university professors awarded fellowships by the CSUF Center for Sustainability to support research for the center and the Anaheim Center for New Energy Technologies (AC-NET) focused on energy sustainability and efficiency. Together with Myungjung Kwon, assistant professor of political science, he will work closely with electric and water utility industry experts from Anaheim Public Utilities.

Kuo traveled to China last April to give workshops on methane recovery techniques and methane’s use as a clean energy source, thanks to a $98,550 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He is also working on two methane emission studies in California. The first is funded by a two-year, $600,000 grant from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to study methane emissions around natural gas pipelines and processing plants. The second involves a $50,000 California Air Resources Board grant to study methane emissions associated with crude-petroleum pipelines and plants. end of story