Ravi Kiran Yellavajjala, assistant professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Published July 2017
Yellavajjala is a new faculty member at NDSU, but he is already having a profound impact. He is highly regarded by his students as a major promoter of the American Society of Civil Engineer programs at NDSU. “He really goes above and beyond to help students learn,” one student said.
Yellavajjala teaches structural engineering classes at NDSU. In the future, he plans to teach a wide range of undergraduate civil engineering and advanced interdisciplinary graduate level courses.
How did you decide to pursue your profession?
For me, a job in academia is not just a career choice; it is also a lifestyle choice that ideally suits my personality. As a kid, I loved storytelling, debating and exploring things on my own. With age, my love for storytelling and debating transformed into a passion for teaching and a strong interest for scientific research. I decided to become a professor even before I started my undergraduate degree.
What do you like best about teaching?
In addition to imparting domain specific knowledge and skills to students, a good teacher has the ability to positively influence the thought process of students. This will help them develop new perspectives that are immensely helpful for generating creative solutions to very complex problems. I thoroughly enjoy positively influencing the thought process of my students.
What drives you as an excellent instructor?
A good teacher presents information to students so that they can assimilate the information and transform it into knowledge. Knowledge is empowerment.
Last fall, I interacted with parents of several high school graduates who were considering NDSU to pursue their undergraduate degree in engineering. Those interactions helped me understand how much the parents struggle to send their kids to school. When I step into a class, I focus on empowering students with knowledge, while taking full responsibility for every dollar paid by the student or parents.
What is the best thing about your job?
I get paid for the work I love to do the most. I enjoy learning new things from research and love to communicate this new knowledge to a broader community through courses, journal articles and conference talks. In addition, I thoroughly enjoy working with student organizations on campus, which I consider as one of the best aspects of my job.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I take responsibility for providing an ideal learning environment for students. In my class, no question is a stupid question. In fact, I reward my students for asking questions, initiating discussions and pointing out mistakes in my class notes. I regularly use surveys and surprise quizzes to assess and fine tune my teaching strategies. Overall, I adopt a “student centric” teaching approach.
How do you connect with students?
I love connecting with students and take every opportunity to bond with them. I interact frequently with students during every class. I also encourage them to meet me in my office if they need help. I serve as a faculty adviser to NDSU American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter. I also mentor about 35 undergraduate students.
What has been the best moment of your teaching career so far?
I feel very happy every time a student stops by my office to tell me how a course I taught kindled a strong interest for structural engineering in them. I consider these as the best moments in my first year of teaching at NDSU.
What have you learned from your students?
Interacting with undergraduate students helped me strengthen my ability to build convincing arguments to teach complex engineering concepts. My graduate students constantly provide me new perspectives of research problems that are of interest to me. My students made me a better educator and researcher.
What makes NDSU a special place?
Many large-scale infrastructure projects, successful businesses and start-ups in North Dakota and Minnesota are headed by NDSU alumni. NDSU has consistently produced very successful graduates who positively transform our communities, which makes NDSU certainly a special place.
What is your favorite NDSU tradition?
The pursuit of excellence by students, faculty and staff at NDSU is the tradition that inspires me on a daily basis.
Yellavajjala earned his bachelor’s degree at Andhra University, India; his master’s degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India; and his doctorate in civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame.
His research focuses on understanding how damage and extreme loading conditions impact engineering materials and structures.