DSI Faculty Member Recognized for Excellence in Teaching

 “A teacher affects all eternity; you never know where his or her influence stops.” – Henry Adams

Eleni Drinea is a straight-A teacher. 
 
Drinea, a lecturer in discipline of computer science, will receive this year’s Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award, an honor given annually by the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association. She’ll receive the award on Class Day, the May 20 commencement for Columbia Engineering graduates.
 
Drinea said she was honored to receive the award. 
 
“I was delightfully surprised,” said Drinea, who is also a member of the Data Science Institute, where she teaches core classes and advises graduate students.  “What I love about teaching is sharing my knowledge and passion for a subject with my students. I also enjoy discussing connections with their other courses, and how the course material applies to their research or might lead to improved solutions in their jobs.”
 
In all her classes, Drinea says she get her ideas across by emphasizing the intuitive process of problem solving. Her lectures are interactive – she routinely asks questions to ensure students understand key concepts while guiding them to come up with their own solutions. She also feels “privileged” to have “exceptional teaching assistants.”
 
One of those teaching assistants, Aditya Shah, helped Drinea teach a course called Analysis of Algorithms. Shah, who graduated recently with a master’s and is a software engineer for Facebook, describes Drinea is an “amazing teacher.”
 
“In class, she focused more on covering the breadth of the course and delivering key concepts,” said Shah, “while letting the students figure out less important details via exercises. Her class moved fast and encompassed advanced and interesting topics, though her concise and articulate lectures allowed her to do so without letting any student lag behind. I had a great time working with her last spring!”
 
Rocco Servedio, a professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering and chair of the Computer Science Department, said Drinea is “well-deserving” of the excellence in teaching award. 
 
“Students in Eleni's classes,” Servedio said, “are effusive about her clear and superbly organized lectures, her outstanding subject matter knowledge, her approachability and helpfulness, and her ability to present complex material in an intuitive way.  Her course is described by students as enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding – a perfect combination. The Computer Science Department is thrilled that Eleni has been recognized with this distinguished teaching award.”
 
The Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award has been bestowed on faculty of SEAS since 1996. The award was instituted by the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association. Recipients get $1000 and a citation, and it is given on behalf of students and alumni for excellence in teaching, including dedication to undergraduate students. The decision committee is comprised of three students and two alumni.
 
Donghan He, a master’s student at DSI, said Drinea presents the core insight into a problem and then gives the students examples that illustrate the solution. And outside of the class, he added, “she is extremely generous with her time. ”
 
“She would go beyond her office hour length, or talk to you even if she doesn’t have a scheduled office hour,” added He. “It is very hard to teach algorithms to a bunch of non-computer science students, and I think you can’t do a better job than what Eleni has done.”
 
Drinea has a distinguished background in both teaching and research. She received a degree in computer engineering from the University of Patras, Greece, and earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 2005 from Harvard. Until 2009, she was a research associate with the school of computer and communication sciences at EPFL, Switzerland, where her research centered around reliable wireless communication and network coding. At Columbia, she advises graduate students in the master’s program at DSI, regularly teaches the Data Science Capstone and Ethics course for DSI and is a member the Foundations of Data Science Center
 
Ridhi Mahajan, another DSI student, agreed with He’s assessment of Drinea’s teaching, and added one final encomium. 
 
“Professor Eleni walked us through many algorithms, taking examples on the blackboard, involving the entire class in each step,” Mahajan said. “Even though we had a lot of material to cover, she never rushed the class – rather, always gave us time to ask questions. Our class used to end late in the evening, but she stayed after class to address each student’s questions. She is undoubtedly one of the best teachers I’ve had.”
 
–Robert Florida


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