Arjun Narayanan awarded 2023–24 Outstanding GSI Award in Engineering


The Graduate Division and Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) Teaching and Resource Center recently presented Arjun Narayanan with the Outstanding GSI Award in Engineering, which honors over 200 UC Berkeley GSIs each year. Arjun was nominated by the Fung Institute and received this award for the E295: Communication for Engineering Leaders course.

Following in his family’s footsteps, Arjun knew he would be an engineer from a young age. Now, he’s preparing the next generation of engineering leaders as a GSI for UC Berkeley’s Master of Engineering (MEng) program.

Here, we had the opportunity to catch up with Arjun about his work with the MEng program as well as what it means to be recognized as an Outstanding GSI in Engineering.

What initially interested you about engineering?

I grew up in Bangalore, a large city in South India and there were quite a few engineers in my family; my dad is an aeronautical engineer, and my uncle is a civil engineer and my mother was a computer engineer and part of the team that digitalized the operations of The Times of India — one of the most widely circulated newspapers in India. They were strong influences on me to study math and science in school and lean towards engineering and technology.

I also spent a lot of time in my childhood attending airshows, visiting aircraft manufacturing facilities and construction sites. This was the biggest reason for me to apply to study engineering.

What prompted you to pursue a PhD?

I studied Civil Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka — a small engineering institute on the west coast of South India. I received a couple of fellowships for summer research, which is what got me interested in research and put the idea of pursuing a PhD in my head early on in my undergraduate years. This early start helped me put together a strong application to graduate school.

I was lucky enough to get into Stanford University with full financial support for my masters. There would have been no way I could have afforded going there without the financial support. Here I dove deep into research and developed software to analyze the mechanics of materials. Before starting my PhD, I wanted to gain some industry experience, particularly with applied research.

I worked for a couple of years as a research engineer at Siemens where I developed software tools to speed up the design process for additively manufactured materials. This work experience gave me great insight into the similarities and differences between academic and industry research. At the same time, it convinced me that getting a PhD would be extremely useful for a research career in either academia or industry.

I started my PhD at Berkeley in 2018, and it’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride. I’ve had the opportunity to work on different projects, and ended up writing my dissertation on Machine Learning methods for 3D modeling and computer graphics.

It’s hard to believe that I started out as a civil engineer dreaming of designing bridges and skyscrapers, but now I write software for machine learning applications.

I guess that’s what Silicon Valley does to you.

What class do you teach and how would you describe your teaching philosophy?

I’ve taught a few different classes at Berkeley including freshman Calculus, programming for math majors, and Communications for Engineering Leaders. This exposed me to a diversity of students — from freshman, to seniors, to graduate students — and has taught me that teaching is not one-size-fits-all.

At university, you see incredible variation in students — we have students from a variety of backgrounds, with different levels of proficiency. Every student has unique interests, needs, and learning styles and responds differently to different teaching methods.

As instructors, we need to make sure that no student is left behind, while simultaneously keeping the material interesting and challenging for the more advanced students.

Given this incredible variation, I think a teacher needs to be highly adaptable and be able to wear multiple hats. “To teach” has a very active connotation — it almost sounds like the teacher is “giving” the students knowledge. I think teaching is more about enabling students to discover and learn for themselves. It’s about instilling confidence and self-belief in the student. If you can remove those barriers, you are setting up the students for success.

What are some lessons you’ve learned through teaching?

Teaching gives you a new perspective on something you may have taken for granted. There are so many different ways of seeing the same idea, but once we get comfortable with one, we don’t try anymore to discover the other paths. Teaching forces you to do this because a student may approach a problem differently. This is why having students work with each other, teach each other, and learn from each other can be so effective. It’s a win-win situation, with students benefiting from one another.

What does it mean to you to receive the 2023–2024 Fung Institute/MEng Outstanding GSI Award?

Teaching is very close to my heart and something I have held in very high regard for as long as I can remember. One of my most cherished gifts is a Thank You card that a few students from my Calculus class gave me at the end of term. The Outstanding GSI Award is a close second to that.

Connect with Arjun.

Edited by Veronica Roseborough



Berkeley Master of Engineering
Berkeley Master of Engineering

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.