SUNY Oswego mathematics professor Ampalavanar Nanthakumar recently earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, recognizing his exemplary skills as an educator, dedication to students and contributions to the field of statistics.

“Professor Nanthakumar has excellent communication skills with an impeccable teaching record at SUNY Oswego,” wrote his nominator, Kamal I. Mohamed, a biology professor and director of Rice Creek Field Station. “As an instructor he can motivate, inspire, encourage and identify with students. Students in his classes described him as caring, fair and encouraging, enthusiastic and well prepared.”

Nanthakumar also has provided great service by supervising more 50 student projects in capstones, independent study projects, Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee Challenge Grants and internships, some of which resulted in published research in peer-reviewed journals, Mohamed said. Nanthakumar, he added, is known for staying connected with students, many of whom go to graduate school and related professional positions, demonstrating an exemplary level of commitment and care.

“Since his arrival at Oswego in 2001, Professor Nanthakumar has collaborated with several of his colleagues on campus and elsewhere on many projects and produced significant results that contributed positively to our understanding of statistics and statistical analysis,” Mohamed wrote. “The research conducted by Professor Nanthakumar is outstanding. He pursued the difficult task of designing and executing well-needed statistical projects. His findings made a significantly positive effect in our understanding of statistical analysis.”

Economics professor Elizabeth Schmitt noted that Nanthakumar “has used his time and talents to develop the quantitative skills of hundreds of students, supporting their success in a variety of disciplines, while mentoring students in advanced study as an active scholar in his discipline.” He has taught 14 different classes in his time at Oswego, she added, with a particular specialization in probability and statistics.

Building success, confidence

“Dr. Nanthakumar teaches the material, from introductory to advanced, with an applied approach designed to deploy evidence-based approaches like retrieval practice, develop mastery to foster a growth mindset, and motivate students by demonstrating the relevance of the course content,” Schmitt wrote. “Lower-level courses practice essential skills while teaching ‘tricks’ that build success and confidence, while upper-level courses are designed to connect earlier coursework.”

Schmitt cited Nanthakumar’s glowing student evaluations that praised him as “extremely helpful,” “always available,” “fair and encouraging,” “very intelligent, kind and respectful of his students,” “very enthusiastic” and “incredibly smart and very funny.”

Kristin Croyle, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, noted Nanthakumar “is consistently willing to work closely with students to ensure that they are supported in their math study and that they master the necessary material to be successful.”

“At SUNY Oswego, we pride ourselves on the extent to which we provide individual mentoring to students, but this work would not be possible for our students in mathematics without the dedicated work of faculty such as Dr. Nanthakumar,” Croyle wrote. “His strength in scholarship undoubtedly positively influences his work with students, and has culminated in several co-authored publications with undergraduate students.”

“His teaching techniques, his passion for Mathematics, as well as his fine pedagogical and psychological skills make Dr. Nanthakumar an asset of SUNY Oswego,” physics professor Carolina Ilie wrote in a letter of support. “Dr. Nanthakumar is an example of a faculty member who is not only an excellent and dedicated professor and research adviser, but also an inspiration for the students by his active research productivity.”

Nanthakumar has authored or co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed papers in such journals as the International Journal of Statistics and Probability, Mathematical BioSciences, Journal of Applied Statistical Science, Frontiers in Sociology and American Journal of Mathematical and Management Science. He has presented internationally as well in countries including Australia, Greece, India and Sri Lanka.

Nominations from students and alumni thanked Nanthakumar for creating “a positive environment that is very student-oriented and focuses on building positive self-esteem through high standards and well-designed instruction,” and as “a kind, caring, hard-working, organized and remarkable teacher” with an “ability to mentor students and provide an outstanding role model.”

A 2018 recipient of the SUNY Oswego President’s Award for Scholarly and Creative Activity, Nanthakumar also has served the campus as president of the Sigma Xi scientific research honor society, chair of the Institute for Global Engagement’s Cultural Committee and International Student and Visiting Scholar Committee, and by leading math department committees on promotion/retention/tenure and on curriculum.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in math/statistics from the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, a master’s in statistics from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Kentucky.