Mechanical engineering chair, professor recognized for outstanding teaching

April 2012 By

As chair of UM's Department of Mechanical Engineering, Arunachalam M. Rajendran has earned the respect of administration and faculty, and his research achievements are known worldwide. But being selected for the school's monthly Faculty Teaching Award is the most meaningful honor yet for "Dr. Raj," as he is affectionately called on campus.

Dr. Raj's students speak highly of their teacher and showed their gratitude by nominating him for the honor in teaching earlier this semester.

"Helping and mentoring students to advance in their studies to achieve their academic goals is what I enjoy most about my job," Rajendran said. "Whether nominating students for awards or writing recommendations for graduate programs, I enjoy seeing students become well-rounded members of society."

Rajendran teaches Mechanical Engineering 101 and other mechanical engineering elective courses. He ensures that his students grasp the material in his courses by presenting the same information in different ways.

"It's important for me to know the students' individual capabilities," he said. "All students learn on a different level. Some may understand the theory while other students may only understand the experiment. So it's important to go outside of the textbook and use life experiences that will allow both types of learning styles to comprehend."

His open-door policy allows students to come in at any time with concerns, no matter what the topic may be.

"Dr. Raj is very friendly and helpful," said Richard Lucas, a freshman from Maylene, Ala. "He always invites me to sit and chat when I visit him in his office. Although he is very busy, he always makes time for his students. Dr. Raj really wants to see everyone in the department succeed."

Rajendran makes sure that his students are aware of all the resources of the mechanical engineering department by providing them with tours of various facilities throughout the semester.

"I really enjoyed getting to see all the facilities that are part of the mechanical engineering department," Lucas said. "We were able to see the blast lab, the National Center for Physical Acoustics and the machine shop."

Rajendran said his mission is to see students succeed.

"To do this, we must help them get recognition," he explained. "It's important to do well in the classroom, but it is about more than that. Students must exhibit other qualities, such as leadership and activities to show their capabilities, and I make sure my students know that that's what's important."

Michael Presnell, a recent master's graduate of the department, considers himself a testimony of how helpful Rajendran is.

"I came into the master's program with a very low GPA," Presnell said. "Rajendran gave me a chance when no one else was willing to. I was inspired by his belief in me. I presented a paper at the worldwide conference on shock physics and earned a master's degree."

Rajendran said Presnell's weakness was his undergraduate GPA, but his strength was his creativity.

"I took the time and trained him with certain software that would allow him to use his strengths more freely," Rajendran said. "He was a great student that gained tons of leadership skills, communication skills and experience."

Formerly the chief scientist at the Engineering Sciences Directorate in Durham, N.C., Rajendran was also an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University before coming to Ole Miss. Despite a distinguished career, he says that his work is not done. He hopes to continue making sure students are putting their best works forward and said he really enjoys building relationships with students.

"It's not about the awards; it's about showing our students that hard work and leadership will pay off," Rajendran said.