Outstanding work inside the classroom and supporting student research have earned Ampalavanar Nanthakumar of SUNY Oswego’s Mathematics Department the rank of SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor.

Nominator Fehmi Damkaci, professor and chair of the Chemistry Department, described Nanthakumar as “a well-rounded and continuously improving teacher and scholar who is also impacting the college and community in large with his activities.”

Joining the Oswego family in 2001, Nanthakumar has taught 14 different courses from introductory to advanced, developed two online courses and consistently receives very high student evaluations and satisfaction ratings. 

He also supported more than 60 students with scholarly and creative activities –- often involving them in his publications and presentations –- while staying involved in several teaching and education-related community and college service activities. 

Nanthakumar previously received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2020. He received the SUNY Oswego President's Award for Scholarly and Creative Activity in 2018. 

Mathematics can be a challenging subject, but Nanthakumar routinely receives very high marks in evaluations, Damkaci said, with students using such descriptions as: “Dr. Nanthakumar is very passionate about the subject matter,” “He cares about his students and always offers great help at office hours” and “He clearly understands the material, but more importantly helps us to comprehend it.” 

“The examples he gives in these classes depend on his audience since mathematics is required for students in different majors,” Damcaki noted. “This made it easier for his students to understand the subject matter as summed up by a comment from one of his students, which mentions that Dr. Nanthakumar relates material to real-world application.”

Active scholar

Nanthakumar is an active scholar in publications and presentations, working with top international statistics experts and his own students. “He published about 42 peer-reviewed articles and five proceedings,” Damkaci wrote. “Of these, 22 articles and three proceedings were published since his appointment at Oswego. He also presented research at 14 international conferences and 12 national and regional conferences. Most importantly, he co-published three articles with his students in refereed journals.”

Calling Nanthakumar “a distinguished teacher and scholar who is a significant resource for students in the Department of Mathematics, particularly those studying statistics,” Kristin Croyle, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, noted his “very positive” teaching evaluations, “with students commenting about how much he works with them to ensure that they understand the material, and that he consistently works to integrate examples from different fields in order to capture the attention of students of many interests.”

“His mentees speak highly of him and their careers and advancement have greatly benefitted from working with him,” said Isabelle Bichindaritz, an associate professor of computer science and director of the college’s biomedical and health informatics graduate programs. “His research, in particular with students, clearly benefits society and the community, for example by studying data science and statistical analysis and their applications in business, forensics, astrophysics and business.”

Bichindaritz further emphasized that “the kindness and spirit of service of Dr. Nanthakumar are exemplary,” as he has provided support on grant proposals for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

Committed to students

Student letters supporting Nanthakumar consistently emphasized his teaching skills and how much he cares outside of the classroom.

“Dr. Nanthakumar creates an environment where students want to show up to class and are eager to learn,” said 2020 Oswego graduate Olivia Peel. 

“He is not only a professor, but also a mentor, a coach and committed to all students and their success,” Peel noted. “I feel lucky to have had a mentor who not only pointed me in the direction to be successful but walked with me every step of the way to make sure I got there. He is dedicated to the students of SUNY Oswego, the mathematics department, the university and our community.”

Nanthakumar “truly goes above and beyond for his students to make sure they succeed after college,” wrote Caydee Blankenship, a May 2022 graduate and Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner, who described him as approachable, caring and always willing to help. 

“Even though it is not a part of the course material, he makes the time to teach us how to use software, such as SAS, because he knows employers will look for this skill when hiring employees,” Blankenship added. “This shows that he wants us to succeed in life and not just in his course."

Nanthakumar has additionally served students by leading creation of an applied statistics minor and advising students in the applied mathematical economics major.

As president of the Sigma Xi Oswego Chapter –- an international science organization where he was named a 2020 fellow –- Nanthakumer led the organization of a Science Day event for high school students, some of whom enrolled in SUNY Oswego. 

Nanthakumar also has chaired the college’s Institute for Global Engagement’s Cultural Committee, which successfully implemented three “Country of the Year” programs, and its International Students and Visiting Scholars Committee, creating the Conversation Partner program, where international students are paired with U.S. students to improve language skills. 

He coordinates Pre-University Science Poster Competitions organized by the Toronto-based Technological Advances in Science, Medicine and Engineering organization serving high school students mainly in North America. He also serves as an academic council member of the Athens Institute for Education and Research Conferences in Greece, organizing and reviewing submitted papers.

Nanthakumar received letters of support from faculty and colleagues around the U.S. as well as the University of Manitoba, University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, University of Balamand in Lebanon and University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

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.