A+ Professors: Aho and Odeh to Receive Faculty Teaching Award

May 16 2014 | By Melanie A. Farmer

Sometimes teachers deserve extra credit, too.

Alfred V. Aho, Lawrence Gussman Professor of Computer Science

For outstanding teaching, Alfred Aho and Ibrahim Odeh will be presented on Class Day, May 19, with this year’s Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award. A longtime faculty member at Columbia Engineering, Aho is the Lawrence Gussman Professor of Computer Science, and Odeh is Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

Both recipients are honored to receive this award.

“I was delighted, particularly since the students nominated me,” says Aho, who taught Programming Languages and Translators (PLT) this semester. “I think teaching is one of the highest callings. It’s profoundly satisfying to see students learn. What I enjoy most about teaching is Columbia students—they are awesome!”

One of his students, Kaitlin Huben, a junior computer science major, said Aho is the type of teacher who is “truly engaged and determined to make sure his undergraduates understand what is going on both in and out of the classroom.”

When students have questions in his class, Huben says rather than giving the answers outright, Aho “does what I call ‘teaching-by-questions’ … While I know it can occasionally be frustrating from the student’s end, I also know that I learn best when I have to figure out the answer.” She adds, “He is always willing to meet with students and help them answer their questions, whether big or small, related to class or just about computer science in general.”

This isn’t Aho’s first time being singled out for outstanding teaching. In 2003, he won the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the IEEE John von Neumann Medal.

Ibrahim S. Odeh, Lecturer of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics

Upon receiving the news of this award, Odeh was “definitely surprised, very happy, and honored!” Odeh also serves as founder and research director of the Global Leaders in Construction Management (GLCM) research initiative at the School.

Cem Garih, a Columbia Engineering senior, participates in Odeh’s GLCM research initiative and has also taken his course, Principles of Construction Techniques. Garih say GLCM was an invaluable experience. He had the chance to travel to Istanbul and Doha, Qatar, to learn firsthand about the local construction markets in these regions.

Garih calls Odeh an attentive, supportive teacher and an inspiring mentor. “He makes his students’ personal and career development the core of the educational experience he offers,” says Garih. “He has definitely helped me become a better student but more importantly, he has helped me become a better individual.”

Graduate student Omar Alrawi, who has Odeh as a faculty adviser, describes him as hard-working, creative, and innovative. Says Alrawi, “Professor Odeh is always available to students to provide his advice and to answer questions, and encouraging and motivating his students to bring in new ideas.”

For Odeh, the students are his motivation. “Working closely with my students to provide answers to their questions, needs, and concerns is really a great process,” he adds. “Making sure my students get all their answers at the end of this process is the true enjoyment.”