Aaron Kyle receives Columbia Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching

May 16 2017

Dr. Aaron Kyle, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been named a recipient of Columbia University’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching after nominations from his students and colleagues. A top honor presented to only five recipients each year, the presidential awards “recognize teaching excellence at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and, in particular, honor faculty who have had a lasting influence on the intellectual development of our students.”

As the instructor for the required two-semester BME Lab sequence, as well as the yearlong capstone senior design course, Kyle has proven to be an integral part of the Columbia BME undergraduate curriculum.

“Professor Kyle is a huge part of the reason why I have so much pride in being a Columbia BME,” one student said. “He is the undergraduate BME experience.”

Aaron Kyle

Under his direction, the BME Lab sequence has grown to incorporate many aspects of the wide field of biomedical engineering, such as bioinstrumentation, biomechanics, and tissue engineering.

In the senior design course, Kyle inspires students to apply their accumulated knowledge towards solving a real-world biomedical problem. He has also created the Global Health Technology Program integrated with the senior design course in order to directly address the need for improved medical care in Uganda. The program has taken three trips to Uganda (2011, 2012, 2016) to test device prototypes and uncover new project needs. Kyle has subsequently served as an advisor to many successful projects, some of which have matured into prominent startups.

“Aaron has played a critical role in leading and enhancing our educational program, and has been a cherished mentor for many of our students,” says Andrew Laine, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “He has redefined the role of lecturer and raised the bar for all faculty who teach.”

Kyle’s passion for teaching reaches beyond the undergraduate classroom. In 2014, he created the Hk Maker Lab, a program focused on introducing engineering design and STEM careers to high school students who may otherwise be underrepresented in STEM. 

During the summer program, students learn about the engineering design process through a combination of interactive workshops and laboratory activities. The students then identify a biomedical problem and engineer a solution. Hk Maker Lab alumni have gone on to intern at biotechnology companies and pursue science or engineering at a number of top universities. Another element of Hk Maker Lab involves integrating engineering design into high school curriculum by training high school teachers – an effort that has been lauded by the NYC Department of Education.

Kyle’s dedication to the Hk Maker Lab has not gone unrecognized. In 2016, he received a five-year, $1.3 million NIH Science Education Partnership Award to support Hk Maker Lab’s goal of educating and motivating students to pursue STEM.

Kyle joined the Columbia University Department of Biomedical Engineering as a lecturer in 2010 after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he investigated the effects of electromagnetic fields on stem cells, invented a liquid metal pacemaker lead, and designed ECG analysis algorithms for ambulatory animal studies. He received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University and a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering from Kettering University.

“I'm happy and humbled to be a recipient of the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching.  While this is a tremendous honor, the real prize has been the opportunity to work with high schoolers via the Hk Maker Lab and BME undergraduates here at Columbia. I am proud to have had a (small) effect on these people's educational journey,” Kyle says. “Also, I'd be remiss in not expressing thanks to my esteemed colleagues in BME and my family, especially my fantastic wife, Ngonidzashe, who has been unwaveringly supportive throughout all of my professional endeavors. Without her, nothing I do is possible.”

The award will be presented to Kyle by University President Lee C. Bollinger at the Commencement ceremony on May 17th.