Campus & Community

"Lessons Learned on the Way to Becoming a University Professor"

School of Business Professor Kevin Ryan shares his enthusiasm and passion with the University community.

Most people would not be enthusiastic to learn that their prize for winning an award is to prepare a presentation on why they won in the first place.

Then again, most people aren’t Kevin Ryan.

Professor Ryan was one of the first two recipients of the Distinguished Teacher-Mentor Award. Created prior to the 2022-23 academic year, the honor recognizes faculty excellence in “pedagogical innovation, curriculum development, classroom teaching and mentoring students outside the classroom.”

In addition to recognition at the annual faculty awards ceremony, part of the responsibility of receiving the award is giving a lecture to the Stevens community, and university Provost Dr. Jianmin Qu decided that it would be most appropriate as part of the Provost’s Lecture Series. Professor Ryan recently delivered his presentation, “Lessons Learned on the Way to Becoming a University Professor,” in front of a packed house at the University Center Complex.

Kevin Ryan faces the audience with Dean Gregory Prastacos and Stevens President Nariman Farvardin in the front row.The audience included Qu, Stevens president Nariman Farvardin, School of Business Dean Gregory Prastacos, Senior Vice Provost for Graduate Education Constantin Chassapis, Vice Provost for Research & Innovation Edmund Synakowski, Schaefer School of Engineering and Science Dean Jean Zu, Associate Provost Sin Ouckama, Chief Financial Officer Louis Mayer and Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Faculty Affairs David Zeng.

“It was very general on what we were told to present,” Ryan said. “They wanted us to speak about whatever we feel is important in terms of how we became who we are as teachers and how we teach. It was meant to be reflective of why we think we won the award. We were given very broad latitude.”

For Kevin, the what, why and how comes back to that enthusiasm. It’s the number one piece of feedback he receives from his “colleagues,” the term he uses to address his students to reinforce their common bond of learning. Whether it’s a discussion about Python, data science, mobile app development or his thoughts on teaching, enthusiasm is the common denominator.

“I love what I do,” he said. “That's a real blessing in my life. I really love what I do. Secondly, I'd like to think that I make a small difference in people's lives. I have the opportunity to impact our young adults, to guide them. I think those are two blessings, and that gets me charged up. I'm doing something that I think I should be doing and hopefully making a difference, and I just love it!”

But that enthusiasm is not a one-way street. By using questions to spur conversations, Kevin can get his colleagues invested in the material and create stimulating classroom conversations that lead to better understanding. He often calls on students randomly, making sure they know it’s okay if they don’t have an answer, to make sure everyone stays engaged.

“I think nothing but lecturing is boring, no matter how exciting the material is,” he explained. “I tell my colleagues, ‘If I do all the talking, I get an F.’ Colleagues are going to ask questions that get things going. I had a lecture recently and a colleague was understanding everything, and he said, ‘Well, couldn't you do it this way?’ And it was a way that I hadn't thought of. It was a programming exercise, and it got a whole class discussion going.”

“Why do I just not go in and lecture? It's boring. I'm not going to connect with the students. I'm not going to excite them. If I can go in and get them excited so they start asking questions, sometimes another student will join in that discussion, and then it becomes contagious, and now they're all talking about it, which is fantastic. To me, it's bringing that sense of openness. I want your questions. I tell them, ‘I don't know everything about everything. You’re going to ask questions that I'm going to have to think about, which is good.’ Participation happens from the enthusiasm and the questions.”

His students agree.

“He came to class every day excited to teach, and this joy rubbed off on all the students,” one said in an evaluation. “He was engaging and clear. His classroom was always a safe space for questions. Professor Ryan was not only my kindest professor, he was also by far the most engaging and informative.”

The third part of the equation after enthusiasm and questions is comfort. Building on the University’s inclusivity language contained in every syllabus, Kevin makes sure to let his colleagues know about the “invisible (or virtual) welcome mat,” that sits outside his classroom.


“I think the wording in the syllabus is important, and it's great,” he said. “What's also great about Python or data science or mobile app development is that where you're from doesn't matter. If you're a Republican, a Democrat, an independent, it doesn't matter. The command Print Hello, World is Print Hello, World. You can't change the syntax.”

“I tell them, ‘All I'm looking for is for you to come here wanting to learn, and if I do anything that makes you uncomfortable—other than asking you difficult questions—let me know, and we can discuss.' Everyone is welcome. Just come here eager to learn. You’re welcome if you want to learn.”

The welcome mat doesn’t get rolled up when class is over. Kevin takes the mentor half of the award just as seriously as the teaching portion.

“A true sign of his influence can be seen in the common area outside his office which is constantly filled with students who come for advice and guidance,” Prastacos, the SSB Dean, said last spring after learning that Kevin was the recipient of the inaugural honor. “It is no surprise that he is continuously named by students as the faculty member who has had the biggest impact on them. One conversation with Kevin’s students and you’ll learn of his concern for not just his student’s academic progress but also their personal development and mental health.”

There is a reason that the presentation was titled “Lessons Learned On the Way to Becoming a University Professor.” The enthusiasm, energy and realization that his actions matter were impressed upon him at an early age.

“If I look back over my life, I can even remember my grammar school teachers,” he said. “Some of the most important people in my life who have influenced me have been teachers, and now I'm in that role so I realize how much of an impact it has. Being a professor is a huge responsibility because, whether we are aware of it or not, we actually become role models. People might think I'm crazy, but I try not to walk across the grass as you go up to the Howe Center. I figure I should walk on the sidewalk because I'm the professor, I should do it the right way.”