Dr. Aaron Kyle ‘02 started his journey at Kettering University with a plan. He would study Electrical Engineering and work in the industry after graduation.
But something changed once he got to Kettering. Kyle saw the impact the faculty had on him and his classmates. He looked up to his professors and the lessons - educational and personal - they taught him.
“My goals have changed over the years,” Kyle said. “I realized that I wanted to be someone like my professors, driving research and helping students learn. They inspired me to go to graduate school.”
Continuing his education and becoming faculty himself is something Kyle never regrets. And his passion was noticed by students, staff and other faculty at Columbia University where he teaches in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
In May, Kyle was 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.
“I was surprised when I received the recognition. There are a lot of great educators here and it’s quite competitive. It’s always nice to know that your peers and students think highly of you. It’s a distinct honor,” Kyle said. “My passion for teaching starts with the students. We have really sharp people. The students display a particularly inspiring combination of intelligence, diligence, and altruism. They are inclined toward health care and helping others. These outstanding students only enhance my motivation to be a good teacher.”
Being able to play a small role in helping the students achieve success is why he focuses on teaching . But there’s a lot of opportunities to still do research, as well.
Kyle works in global health technology. He and his design students create appropriate technologies for medical care in developing countries.
Kyle said many hospitals in developing countries are unable to use modern equipment, which may be cost prohibitive, rely on mains power which may not be available, or simply cannot be maintained in a low-resource setting. Kyle works primarily in Uganda, focusing on neonatal and maternal care devices that have been specifically designed with the needs and constraints of a developing nation in mind.
“We focus on creating medical care technologies that are appropriate for these settings, embracing the engineering, social, and economical challenges that arise,” he said. “Since starting this program, we have made a variety of devices including a system to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, infant warming and transport units, and low cost therapeutic and diagnostic devices for the care of jaundiced infants. We strive to make our medical innovations effective, low-cost, easily-maintained and easily-repaired in country.”
On top of all that, Kyle also developed a pre-college program for high school students interested in engineering. In his program, the Hk Maker Lab, New York City high school students from socially disadvantaged schools or underrepresented minority groups come to Columbia in the summer to learn the (biomedical) engineering design process from Kyle. Kyle’s desire to help young students stems from one of his first experiences at Kettering.
Finding his passion
Originally from Bellevue, Nebraska, Kyle first came to Kettering as a participant in the Academically Interested Minds (AIM) program in 1996 while still in high school.
“AIM was a huge part of what shaped me today and motivated me to create my own program for high school students.” he said, “It’s all a continuum, from being in AIM and undergraduate studies at Kettering, then through graduate school and my current career. I’ve learned so many things and from people from various backgrounds.”
After graduating from Kettering he participated in a summer internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico before starting graduate school in the fall of 2002 at Purdue University, where he went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the Indiana School of Medicine before joining Columbia as teaching faculty in 2010.
“I found a serious passion for being in the classroom with students at Purdue. ” Kyle said. “But it really started with my professors at Kettering and their dedication to facilitating student learning. I knew teaching was the right path for me.”
He remembers the time in his capstone design class at Kettering when he and his classmates were charged with creating portable, durable radios. While at Kettering he had a fair amount of success, but with this project, things were different.
“I made so many mistakes. It was really rough,” Kyle says. “It’s kind of ironic that I now lead a design class, given that my own project was a minor catastrophe. An adage that always sticks out to me is: ‘you learn a lot more from your errors than what you do right.’ It’s so true. At Kettering I learned how to tackle a problem and learn from mistakes. These are the things I try to convey to my students.”
Kyle chose to attend Kettering for the co-op experience and the hands on teaching. But what he left with was far more important than he realized. Even though Kyle took an unconventional path out of Kettering, he wouldn’t change any of it.
“It prepared me really well for what came next. I learned to manage my time and not be overwhelmed by multiple challenges, which are foundational skills,” Kyle said. “I fondly recall my time at Kettering. The friends, the faculty, the hard work; it all prepared me for what’s come beyond school. Looking back on my life’s journey, being a Kettering alum is a source of pride.”