Najim Dehak, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, recently received the Whiting School of Engineering’s (WSE) William H. Huggins Excellence in Teaching Award.
The award is given in recognition of outstanding teaching in WSE at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and a demonstrated dedication to students. Faculty, teaching assistants, and undergraduate students are involved in the assessment of the nominees and the selection of the awardees.
“I’m truly excited to be selected, but what really means a lot is that my students took the time to nominate me,” said Dehak, who is also a member of the Center for Language and Speech Processing. “I wasn’t sure if the awards were still going to be given out because of COVID-19, so it was even more surprising when I got the news. I really do appreciate that my students thought I should be nominated for the award, and I hope it means that I consistently help them.”
This is not the first time that Dehak’s students have nominated him for a WSE award since he joined the ECE department in the fall of 2016. Last year, they nominated him for the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.
A major goal of Dehak’s is for each student to feel more confident after finishing his class. As far as his approach to teaching, Dehak does his best to have an open dialogue with his students, and more than anything, he wants to see them put in the effort to learn.
“I want my students to show me that they can learn and are willing to take the time and effort to learn,” Dehak said. “I try to make my classes be about learning overall, not the final grade.”
Dehak aims to have an open dialogue during his classes. If something isn’t working with how he is teaching a class, he wants his students to tell him.
He also encourages his students to be diligent when reading his own work. In fact, if a student points out that Dehak did an equation incorrectly in class, they’re rewarded with a lunch paid for by Dehak.
“The students love the challenge, and if they’re right, they get to have lunch with a faculty member, talk about their research interests, and ask me questions about Hopkins. It also helps them remain engaged with the material,” Dehak said. “I like hearing about how they are doing, even outside of class. I usually stop and talk with them if we come across each other on campus, and I’ll ask how their semester is going.”
Dehak is also known for effectively bridging the gap between being a faculty member and students, both inside and outside the classroom. On the first day of class, he always asks his students to call him by his first name, not professor. He usually hosts his students at his house once a semester for a barbecue, and will occasionally join in their pickup soccer games on the Homewood Campus.
Dehak admits that while teaching remotely the past few weeks, he has missed the in-person interactions he used to enjoy on a daily basis with his students. Still, he believes he has adjusted his lessons to be effectively taught remotely, which comes as no surprise to ECE department chair, Ralph Etienne-Cummings.
“I am really thrilled to hear that our faculty continue to provide some of the best classes in the Whiting School of Engineering,” Etienne-Cummings said. “I know that Najim is dedicated to his students at all levels, and seeing him rewarded with this award is gratifying for me as a department chair. I hope we continue to provide the environment and resources to deliver top-notch courses, even during this challenging time.”