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Meet Princeton's University Graduate School dean

February 12, 2014 21:16 IST

With two decades of experience as a teacher, researcher and administrator at Princeton University, Sanjeev Kulkarni, a professor of electrical engineering and director of the Keller Center, is described by some colleagues as a ‘seasoned university citizen’ who has made a name for himself in interdisciplinary courses.

Dr Kulkarni, who migrated with his family at age 3 from Bombay and grew up mostly in upstate New York where his father was a mathematics professor, will cut down much of his teaching load to be dean of the Princeton University Graduate School from March 31.

“Sanjeev Kulkarni will be a spectacular dean for Princeton’s Graduate School,” Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement. “‘He cares deeply about the welfare of students, and he will be a thoughtful and effective advocate for graduate education in the years to come”.

A search committee comprising faculty members and graduate students proposed Dr Kulkarni’s selection, the university said.

“Though teaching and research continues to be my passion, I have also been spending quite some time in the administrative work,” Dr Kulkarni told India Abroad. “As a dean, I would not only continue to work like my predecessor in improving the solid academic reputation of Princeton, but also further enhance diversity on the campus and improve the quality of life for everyone at the school.”

The Graduate School enrolls about 2,600 students from more than 50 countries pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in 42 departments and programs.

Dr Kulkarni, said Provost David Lee, who he will report to, “is known as a community-builder, working collaboratively with different groups within the university community... He has contributed a great deal to Princeton already, and his experience will prove helpful in shaping a vision for graduate student life. Sanj has a reputation as a generous mentor and a collaborative leader, talents that will serve him well in his new role.”

Dr Kulkarni holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, all from Clarkson University.

After completing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University, he earned his PhD in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“You pointed out that I did not start with an Ivy League school,” Dr Kulkarni quipped. “It just shows that you can make the best of the facilities and courses available anywhere, and build an excellent reputation and can look to joining an Ivy League or equally reputed school with a more cutting-edge education and research.”

At Princeton he has served as an associate faculty member in the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering and in the Department of Philosophy, and was an associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science for two years and the master of Butler College, an undergraduate residential college, from 2004 to 2012.

Since 2011, he has been director of the Keller Center, which seeks to ‘educate students to be leaders in a technology-driven society.’

Among the popular courses he has co-taught is ‘learning theory and epistemology’, a cross-listed course between the philosophy and electrical engineering departments. He taught with the philosopher Professor Gil Harman.

“It is taken by students at a variety of levels with a variety of backgrounds,” Professor Kulkarni said. “It is a challenging course, but also rewarding. I bring to the course my research and interest such areas as machine learning. The arts and humanities students learn some engineering aspects and the students from science and technology background dwell into philosophy.”

He plans to spend much of the next few months listening to the priorities of the university community, finding out from the students and professors on making Princeton consolidate and improve its reputation.

Professor Kulkarni won the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2007 and the engineering school’s Distinguished Teacher Award in 2004.

Students selected him for the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2009, and have given him seven Engineering Council Excellence in Teaching awards.

“With a vibrant academic and student community at Princeton,” Professor Kulkarni said, “you also want to contribute to overall life.”

Image: Dr Sanjeev Kulkarni

Arthur J Pais