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‘He is never too busy to help his students’

April 15, 2011

Murali Krishnamurthi learned more than industrial engineering in college.

The life’s lesson – to teach the “whole” student – came as he was struggling financially, eating only one meal a day, teetering on the verge of homelessness and preparing to drop out of school.

A caring professor noticed – and made a difference.

“He invited me to his office, made me open up about my difficulties, wrote me a check on the spot for rent and groceries without any questions asked, and helped me get through my difficulties until I was able to get back on my feet,” Krishnamurthi says.

“I (now) make it a point to get to know each student in my class, let them know that I am available for them to talk to me regardless of what the issue is, listen to them without judgment and help them with what I can.”

Krishnamurthi, who came to NIU in 1991, recognizes that teaching is about student-learning. He inspires and motivates students to exercise their full potential: “As the Pygmalion principle suggests, students are more likely to do well if they know that their teachers believe in them.”

He also teaches students to “learn how to learn.”

“Teaching is not about dumping information or finishing the syllabus, regardless of whether students are learning or not,” he says. “It is about facilitating their learning process so that they are capable of mastering the subject matter and continuing that process on their own in the long run.”

Graduates of his courses affectionately call him “Dr. K.” One alum even gave her child the middle name of “Murali.”

“He is never too busy to help his students,” graduate Marissa A. Vallette says. “He always found time to have me come into his office where I was able to get the extra help I needed. I could always count on Dr. K for advice, whether it was helping me choose a master’s project topic, preparing me to present at an international conference or writing a letter of recommendation for me when I was applying to doctoral programs.”

Nonetheless, he is a taskmaster in the classroom.

“Dr. Krishnamurthi kept us on our toes with many surprise quizzes to ensure we assimilated the material cohesively,” says alum Shanthi Muthuswamy, now an assistant professor of engineering technology at NIU. “He had very rigorous standards with report-writing and he refused to accept subpar work … it has had a positive impact on my career, for the managers and my clients always appreciate well-structured, objective-oriented reports.”

Krishnamurthi earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Madras in his native India. He completed a master’s degree at Ohio University and his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University.

In the summer of 1998, he designed and taught NIU’s first fully online course, acquiring and using the necessary technology without any centralized support.

That fall, he added a second responsibility atop his teaching: director of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, where he is humbled by the opportunity to promote effective teaching strategies to his colleagues.

But students and their education remain Job No. 1.

He is passionate about helping international students acclimate to the United States. He also established and served as faculty sponsor to the NIU chapter of Alpha Pi Mu, the industrial engineering honor society, which earned national recognition in only its second year.

And, amazingly, he is walking in the shoes of those he teaches.

“Since fall 2008,” he says, “I have been taking courses from 100- to 300-levels to reorient myself to being in the classroom as a student.”