By Linda Lockhart and Chris Shaw
Ohio University-Zanesville's P.K. "Raj" Thamburaj, a professor of chemistry, is this year's Ohio University Regional Campus Outstanding Professor.
"The Regional Campus Outstanding Professor award recognizes regional campus faculty for excellence in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service," said Dan Evans, executive dean of regional campuses. "Through his contributions, Raj has demonstrated strengths in all three areas."
Nominated for the award by his colleagues, Thamburaj completed a portfolio application that outlined his qualifications. Full-time faculty members from the five regional campuses are eligible for the award, which provides a $3,000 stipend for each of the next two years.
The selection committee described Thamburaj as "active, engaged and engaging, collaborative, and interested in all aspects of faculty life."
Thamburaj joined Ohio University-Zanesville in 1978, having previously taught at Kent State University and St. Joseph's College in South India. He is engaged and successful in securing grants, publishing and mentoring -- but his love is teaching.
"There are no perfect teachers," Thamburaj said, "but a great teacher constantly seeks ways and means to become a better teacher. Recently, I shifted my research focus from laboratory experimentation to pedagogy to enhance my students' learning experience."
The results of that shift include articles about how to teach Coulomb's Law and molecular formulas, using cooperative learning in first-year chemistry and determining in class the composition of a binary mixture. Three of his articles have appeared in the premier national journal on teaching chemistry: Journal of Chemical Education.
Dean Jim Fonseca of the Zanesville campus commends Thamburaj for his dedication and discipline.
"Raj is one of those very dedicated faculty members who is on campus for one reason or another -- usually teaching or service-related matters -- five days a week and often more than eight hours a day on a regular basis," Fonseca said. "Even though he has been teaching for 30 years, Raj will always take time to go over his notes and to prepare for his class. He will never 'walk in and wing it.'
"I wish all regional campus students taking chemistry could have Dr. P.K. Thamburaj as a professor," Fonseca added.
Thamburaj will tell you, however, that he is motivated by his students.
"With encouragement from my students, my lecture notes for Chemistry 121 were published as a book in 2007 (Pearson)," Thamburaj said. He is working on another book designed to show the connectivity of various concepts learned in general chemistry and help those taking MCAT and other entrance exams.
Two of the teaching methods he uses, the "Known to Unknown Approach" and cooperative learning, are among topics he has shared at national and international conferences. In all, he has published more than 10 papers in referred journals, presented on more than 15 topics and received nearly $100,000 in grant funding to enhance undergraduate learning.
Thamburaj was instrumental in hosting a symposium on introductory chemistry for ChemEd, an international conference to improve chemical education in secondary and post-secondary education. Most recently, he spearheaded a grant-funded learning community project, "Connect the Dots," in which faculty, administrators and staff work together to ensure the first-year college experience is an outstanding experience for students at the Zanesville campus.
"Raj is highly regarded by his colleagues for his open leadership style, which emphasizes fairness, civility, consensus-building and egalitarian input into discussions," the nominating committee wrote in its recommendation.
"I am very humbled by this," Thamburaj said. "I thank God for my wonderful colleagues, faculty, administration and staff, and my students all these years -- 30 (years) to be exact -- who were sources of inspiration and encouragement. This recognition is simply a reflection of what a good support system can do in the professional life of a person."