Kunal Shastri receives ECE Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

Kunal Shastri

Kunal Shastri, Ph.D. student in the Monticone Lab, is the winner of the 2021 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Shastri joined Assistant Professor Francesco Monticone’s research group in August 2017 as a Ph.D. student and graduate research assistant. He worked as a TA for several undergraduate courses in the intervening years including ECE 2100 (Fall 2018), ECE 4320 (Spring 2021) and most recently for ECE 3030, “Electromagnetic Fields and Waves,” in the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 semesters, when Monticone was the instructor of the course.

Monticone appreciated Shastri’s work in the course. “ECE 3030 is a course that is notoriously difficult to teach well,” he said. “Many topics are conceptually difficult, and the required math is advanced. Kunal is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the course content and was able to offer additional insight for the students, beyond what was covered during lectures. Kunal is a natural and gifted teacher.”

Shastri said that during discussion sessions and office hours he would make an effort to understand each student's background and tailor his instructions accordingly. “I think it is very important for TAs to actively reach out to individual students,” he said, “instead of passively waiting for students to ask questions. I have noticed that this strategy helps create an inclusive learning environment that benefits every student.”

Shastri’s research involves light-matter interaction with a focus on topological phenomena and nano-structured metasurfaces. “I am currently working on developing metasurfaces for applications involving efficient absorption and lensing of light,” he said. He is passionate about both research and teaching and hopes to pursue a career in academia after completing his Ph.D. work.

“I am honored to receive this award,” Shastri said, “and I would like to thank my students. Every time I interact with students in class, I get a new perspective on the subject matter.”

Shastri said that most of his teaching practices were inspired by the excellent ECE professors whose classes he took. “I would like to particularly thank my advisor, Professor Monticone, who is extremely approachable and incredibly passionate as an instructor, and Professor Debdeep Jena who is exceptional at explaining complex concepts in simple ways.”

Monticone, who recommended Shastri for the award, said: “I have been incredibly lucky to have a TA like Kunal, especially in 2020. While I already knew he was an excellent teacher, his overall performance went far beyond my expectations.”

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