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Ravi Named Distinguished Teaching Professor

June 15, 2009

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UAlbany's Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science S.S. Ravi

Distinguished Teaching Professor Sekharipuram S. Ravi of the Department of Computer Science. (Photo Mark Schmidt) 

Professor S.S. Ravi has just had his photo taken, and is loosening the tie he is not used to wearing.

Ravi was recently named Distinguished Teaching Professor, one of the highest honors bestowed by the State University of New York. For all the prestige of this honor, he is down to earth and refreshingly humble, more comfortable advising a student on which job offer to take than being in the limelight.

A professor of computer science for the past 25 years at UAlbany, S.S. Ravi grew up in the southern part of India, one of five children. The first S is for Sekharipuram, the name of the town in which his father grew up. The second is for Subramaniam, his father's last name.

Ravi's fascination with computers began from listening to discussions on the topic between his two brothers, S. Rajaram and S. Ramanathan.

Later, Ravi took classes on computer organization and operating systems from Rajaram at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, India. Rajaram also taught classes at the Manipal Institute of Technology (the other MIT), in India.

"Rajaram spent a lot of time preparing for his classes," recalls Ravi. "He was chair of the computing engineering department at MIT until 2001."

Ravi earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, where his mentor was Errol Lloyd (currently at the University of Delaware), with whom he still conducts research.

Watching his brother and Lloyd, Ravi learned what good professors do and how they teach and motivate their students. From Lloyd, he  learned to explain highly technical information to students by providing clear examples and asking simple questions.

Ravi's own guiding philosophy is "the more accessible a professor is, the less intimidated the students are, and the easier it is to learn the material."

Ravi came to UAlbany due to the presence of eminent computer science researchers such as Turing Award winner Richard E. Stearns, and Daniel J. Rosenkrantz, past editor in chief of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. Relationships are important to Ravi, who is still in touch with the two professors emeriti today.

His connections with students endure as well. A popular teacher who challenges his students, Ravi won an Excellence in Teaching Award in 1997. Several of his former students dropped by to visit him during the Spring 2009 semester.

"I have been extraordinarily lucky that way. Hearing from my former students is one of the most satisfying things to me," said Ravi. When the announcement of his being named Distinguished Professor went out, the e-mails came pouring in from former students.

In addition to teaching classes and conducting research in areas such as algorithms, data mining, and wireless networks, Ravi also administers the department's internship program.

"There is not a single field today that is not influenced by computer science and engineering," said Ravi. He wants prospective students to know that majoring in computer science does not mean they will spend their careers confined to a cubicle all day developing programs.

He loves a good Dilbert cartoon. "Especially as a computer person, I enjoy the jokes," he said. "You have to be able to laugh at your own profession."

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