Five Questions with Professor Sanjeev Kulkarni: Exploring the Intersection of Technology and Society

January 20th, 2014 / Advancement

Professor KulkarniProfessor of Electrical Engineering Sanjeev Kulkarni, director of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, has been on Princeton’s faculty since 1991. He received the University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2007 and has earned seven Excellence in Teaching Awards from the Undergraduate Engineering Council. Kulkarni served as master of Butler College from 2004 until 2012. He was recently named dean of Princeton's Graduate School, effective March 31, 2014.

What is the Keller Center’s mission?

The mission of the Keller Center is to “educate students to be leaders in a technology-driven society.” We mean this very broadly, and we aim to reach undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines—engineering and science, but importantly the humanities and social sciences as well. We focus on bridging technology and society through innovation, design, and entrepreneurship. Many of our programs are also of interest to faculty, staff, and the broader Princeton community, such as our annual Innovation Forum, which showcases Princeton research that has the potential to improve our lives. Recent student-created innovations include a portable, inexpensive environmental sensor to monitor greenhouse gases, and a new technology that could identify dangerous side effects of drugs in the earliest stages of development, long before they would be tested in humans.

How does the center benefit students?

The center provides a variety of curricular and co-curricular programs that equip students to address challenges at the intersection of technology and society. We believe that all students should have some basic understanding of engineering and technology, have an appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature of problems, and have an understanding of their societal context. Toward this end, we offer a broad range of courses, such as "High-Tech Entrepreneurship," "Entrepreneurial Leadership," and "Ventures to Address Global Challenges." We have lectures, workshops, and several internship opportunities, such as our Entrepreneurial Internship Program, which places students with early-stage companies. The center also offers entrepreneurial activities to help students experience the process of turning an idea into a product ready for the marketplace. Our eLab, to name just one example, is a 10-week summer program that brings students together with innovators and investors who mentor them and help them develop their ideas into viable ventures.

Students in the Keller Center course "Engineering Projects in Community Service" (EPICS) created "Power in a Box," a shipping container that uses solar panels and a wind turbine to act as a generator in areas cut off from power.

How would you describe Princeton students?

Princeton students are amazing. They are incredibly bright, talented, and well rounded. They are a joy to teach, and inspiring to work with.

What is the most satisfying element of teaching?

Helping students understand a subject, especially if they have been struggling with the material for some time. This aspect often provides fairly immediate feedback. Another of the great joys of teaching is hearing from former students, sometimes long after they have graduated, and learning about their accomplishments.

Is there anything your students have taught you?

I’ve learned about many new areas through supervising research, and I often obtain greater insight and understanding of a subject through teaching. But more important than any technical knowledge or insights, I have learned how much I enjoy being a faculty member and working with Princeton students. Through countless interactions, my students have taught me how to be a better teacher, researcher, and mentor.

For more information on how to support the work of the Keller Center, contact Jane Maggard, associate dean for development, engineering, and applied science, 609.258.6850.