Those who know Keh-Han Wang best describe this professor of civil and environmental engineering as a modest man with an immeasurable love for teaching.
For nearly two decades, Wang has devoted countless hours to daily preparation for his courses and juggled large class loads with administrative duties and volunteer work. Yet Wang cannot complain because his teaching career, which spans 19 years at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, fulfills a longtime childhood ambition.
“My dream came true here,” said Wang, who took his first teaching job at UH after aspiring as a youth to become an educator. “Teaching drives me.”
This shows both in and out of his classroom, where Wang touches many with his passion for knowledge. These efforts were recognized at the 31st Annual University of Houston Faculty Awards Ceremony April 22 where Wang received the University of Houston Teaching Excellence Award. The honor, which carries with it a $5,000 monetary gift, was a welcome surprise for the veteran educator.
“With my long-lasting interest and love for teaching, I have always strived to give my greatest commitment to perform strong and effective education to students,” Wang said. “This award is a happy surprise.”
Wang joined the Cullen College as an assistant professor in 1990 after a stint as an assistant research scientist at the University of Florida. He earned full professor in 2003. Two years later, he added to his title director of the civil engineering graduate program, where he is responsible for all admissions and advising.
At the university, Wang teaches courses that include hydraulic engineering, coastal hydrodynamics, hydraulics of sediment transport and hydraulics of open channel flow. His teaching style is dynamic and interactive. His real-world examples promote thinking, problem solving and most importantly, connect theoretical knowledge with practical applications.
Moustapha Harb (2007 BSCE), now an engineer with Houston-based Cobb Fendley & Associates Inc., witnessed this first-hand in Wang’s fluid mechanics course.
“I was always pleasantly surprised to find that not only did Dr. Wang put great emphasis on the theory and abstract background associated with the concepts of mechanics, but he also would blend this theory with very useful and meaningful real-world examples,” said Harb. “These examples were presented both on paper and in the laboratory, where the civil engineering students in the class would participate hands on in the conduct of experiments involving fluids’ concepts. We were then required to analyze the results, ultimately presenting them in the form of a technical lab report the same way that one would be required to in a real-world work environment.”
Wang also uses examples from his research on hydraulics and coastal hydrodynamics to relate course material to the real world.
“K.H. is a true scholar who is able to translate his research contributions into examples in the classroom and in the laboratory to directly benefit student comprehension,” said Shankar Chellam, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, who led efforts to nominate Wang for the award. “He motivates our undergraduate civil engineering students to quantitatively understand physical and mathematical aspects of the underlying concepts related to the flow of water and its interactions in natural and engineered systems.”
Outside the classroom, Wang not only mentors, he finds ways to further education in his field. For the last 23 years, Wang has been a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers Fluids Committee. In this role, he has collaborated with educators across the country to improve education related to fluid mechanics as well as developed and helped edit the book Environmental Fluid Mechanics: Theories and Applications.
On campus, he consistently volunteers to hold demonstrations at summer camps for high school students, assists students competing in the annual ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition and gives tours of the Hydraulic Laboratory at college open houses, among many other commitments.
All this has contributed to his overall excellence as an educator, said Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering.
“He has exceeded my expectations in many ways,” said Vipulanandan, who has worked with Wang throughout his entire 19-year career at UH. “Compared to other faculty he has had a heavier teaching load, his teaching evaluation scores are outstanding and his dedication to advising students has been remarkable. We are very much honored, in the department of civil and environmental engineering, to have an outstanding teacher like professor K.H. Wang.”