Dr. Sid Gunasekaran

2023 KEEN Rising Star

Dr. Sidaard Gunasekaran (Sid G), Associate Professor, University of Dayton, received the top award as a 2023 KEEN Rising Star. Learn more in the below interview.

Dr. Sidaard Gunasekaran (Sid G)

“My approach to teaching and research has always been about making a tangible impact on students by guiding them to find their passion and develop a sense of confidence. With different learning styles, the only way to empower them is through experiential learning. This allows them to use their unique talents to seek opportunities and discover their passion.”

How did you develop your approach to teaching? How does entrepreneurial mindset align with it?

My approach to teaching (and research) has always been about making a tangible impact on students by guiding them to find their passion and develop a sense of confidence, enabling them to speak intelligently about a subject or a topic without hesitation in any given setting. 

However, it is quite often easier said than done. Achieving this goal turns out to be a challenging task, especially when students have different learning styles, approaches to learning, and varying levels of maturity and knowledge.  The only way to empower them is through experiential learning, allowing them to use their unique talents to seek opportunities and discover their passion. 

For me, that platform was portfolios. Through portfolios, students took a Da Vincian approach to learning, moving beyond merely focusing on getting good grades. In their portfolios, they wrote, in their own words, about what they learned in class and in homework, often making connections between different concepts and asking insightful questions that went beyond the requirements, fueling their curiosity. When they took extra steps to further their learning, they were rewarded for it. 

I developed this approach through my experience in writing portfolios as a student during grad school. When I joined as a faculty member in 2016, I was asked to teach the Compressible Flow course. When I revisited my notes for that class from my grad school days, all I found were pages and pages of derivations and equations without any tangible connections or a cohesive story. I didn’t want my students to go through the same thing.

Therefore, from the beginning, I aimed to deliver a course that allowed students to graduate with the ability to tell a compelling story about what they learned in class. They would be able to discuss the importance of considering energy equations when modeling high Mach number flows or explain the design principles behind a supersonic nozzle, not just by regurgitating equations but by synthesizing information and making meaningful connections that fostered long-term memory and retention. 

"As students graduate from my course, they walk away with more than 100 pages of a portfolio where every single letter is written by them."

I wanted them to look at their portfolios even ten years from now and recall the concepts in the way they understood them, not just how I taught them. I wanted them to be able to recollect the emotions and feelings they had when they wrote those sections and easily travel back in time to make sense of it all. As students graduate from my course, they walk away with more than 100 pages of a portfolio where every single letter is written by them, not by me. This builds a strong sense of confidence and provides an excellent foundational understanding of the subject.

A qualitative Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) feedback from a student in the class says: 

“The course was set up in a pretty good manner for a first time in Compressible Flow. Lectures were thoroughly thought out to maximize the impact for students. The healthy mix of learning the derivations, functional relationships, applications, and approaching the open-ended homework provided for effective learning and not being repetitive day in and day out. I also liked that it was more conversational during class rather than the traditional lecturing. I appreciated the opportunities to work on or in groups during class to approach and solve problems first, as it develops confidence in our ability to do it ourselves for a job in the future.”

Talk about your teaching methods. What works? How have your methods changed over time? What have you discovered?

I believe that teaching is indeed a performance. We must effectively sell our ideas in front of the students for them to buy into the learning process and the subject itself. 

To achieve this, preparation is key. We need to know our strengths, constraints, and experiment with different methods, seeking feedback to understand what works and what doesn't. Teaching is, in essence, a form of research, and regardless of our experience, there's always room for improvement. They say a comedian is only as good as their last joke, and I believe the same applies to a teacher. We are only as good as our last class, so I do everything I can to keep the students engaged. 

As an example, when I taught the compressible flow course, I presented the material from a story-based perspective. Instead of relying on a single textbook, I pulled content from multiple sources and aligned the concepts in a way that created a cohesive narrative. Each concept built upon the previous one, and I incorporated active and interactive learning strategies and thought exercises to help the equations convey the story to the students.

Guided notes played a significant role in the course, and both the students and I were excited every single time we came to class. I used various modules that involved real-world aircraft, such as X-15, F-16, Space Shuttle, etc., and we even engaged in role-playing activities where we pretended to be NASA scientists designing rocket nozzles using only a poster sheet, a pencil, and a ruler, employing the method of characteristics. 


Among all the classes, the compressible flow course stood out as a memorable and rewarding experience for both my students and me. Something about the course felt just right. I have had students who have taken almost all my courses (I have taught 10 different ones so far), and they all agree that this was their favorite course of all. I share their sentiment as well. 

In student words from SETs: 

“The most effective part of the course was explaining what we know. You can’t BS your way through this course if the instructor asks you to explain a concept point blank." 

“I enjoyed the classroom because we got to sit in tables and there were screens all around so everyone could see. I enjoyed the class being discussion based and the portfolios made sure I actually understood the material.”

“The lectures were engaging and informative, effectively combining derivations with application-based discussions. The homework assignments were well structured to build from the in-class lectures.” 

Inquiry Based Learning is an example of another module. This constitutes a vital component of problem-based, project-based, and entrepreneurially minded learning (EML). My particular emphasis lies on inquiry-based learning, which I assess through the use of portfolios. Within technical courses like the ones mentioned earlier, portfolios serve as a compelling tool, compelling students to engage in substantial inquiry as they search for pictures, tables, graphs, and other relevant materials to support their narratives.

Moreover, portfolios offer an excellent platform to assess entrepreneurial mindset (EM), where students' curiosity, ability to make connections, and aptitude for value creation are made transparent. The use of portfolios in assessing EML is discussed in this KEEN'zine article:

Using portfolios as a means of assessment

In all of my courses, I follow the portfolio-based assessment technique where students write about their understanding of the concepts in their own words. Portfolios offer each student a valuable platform not only to showcase their learning but also to engage in deep reflection and inquiry, irrespective of their knowledge base. This approach ensures that each student's voice is heard without the fear of being judged in a public setting. It fosters meaningful interactions with students, and brings out any significant misconceptions that can be addressed.

As expected, the process of portfolio writing demands considerable time and effort from both students and myself as their instructor during the grading process. However, the impact it has on students provides constant motivation for me to continue to offer portfolio-based assessment in all my courses. 

In student reflections from various courses: 

“Dr. Gunasekaran presents the material in an engaging and thought-provoking manner. His portfolio style is more work than a traditional class but has its rewards in mastery of the topic taught.”

“I thought I would hate the portfolio method that I heard so many rumors about. But, in all honesty, it is a very effective manner for learning.”

“I really like the class structure you have where there are no tests (which I'm personally bad at) but rather the entire course is centered around a portfolio that continuously builds upon itself and forces me to think about what I learned and put it on paper in my own words which makes it a much better reference for me in the future than any textbook or class notes. I wish every single class in college was structured this way.” 

“When I explain to people that I do not have tests and quizzes, they look at me like I am overthinking a relatively easy course. However, what is demanded for the homework and because of the revisions I have made, I know the material better than I would with any tests or quizzes, because I have had to explain it multiple times!” 

I have published the following ASEE papers on using portfolios to develop an Integrated Teaching model: 

  • Gunasekaran, Sidaard. "Integrated Teaching Model in Graduate Aerospace Classes: A Trial With Compressible Flow Aerodynamics." ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. 2017. https://doi.org/10.18260/1-2--28546
  • Gunasekaran, Sidaard. "Integrated Teaching Model: A Follow Up with Fundamental Aerodynamics." ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. 2018. https://peer.asee.org/30677

Portfolios and the 3Cs

Portfolio is an effective method for students to show their curiosity, their ability to make connections and identify the value in what they are learning. 

We often expect students to be curious, to make connections, and to create value, yet we don't always provide them with a platform to showcase these characteristics. A portfolio offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their curiosity, make explicit connections between concepts, and identify the value of what they are learning through reflections. 

While writing their portfolios, students often find themselves asking questions driven by their own curiosity—questions that weren't originally in the homework assignments. They don't just ask questions, they also seek answers, thereby forging stronger connections between concepts. Through the process of reflection, they understand how they can apply these concepts to create value. I always tell my students that there is no hiding in portfolios. It becomes abundantly clear within just a few pages whether a student is genuinely curious, striving to make connections, and recognizing the value in what they are learning.


The use of portfolios to assess curiosity, connections, and value creation (the 3C’s) is mentioned in this KEEN'zine article:

Get materials to replicate this in your class in the Engineering Unleashed card:

The use of portfolios to measure entrepreneurial mindset is also highlighted in the KEEN video:

The school of engineering recognized the impact the portfolio has on student learning and awarded me the 2018 VISION award for Innovation in Teaching. The details can be found here:

How the portfolio method has evolved 

As I mentioned before, the portfolio-based learning and assessment has a significant impact on students learning when compared to the traditional exam-based approach. 

When I first implemented it, students were burning out of the amount of work required. And I was as well. It was very effective but it was very time consuming. I recorded my thoughts and findings about the method in the following ASEE paper:

  • Gunasekaran, Sidaard. "Integrated Teaching Model in Graduate Aerospace Classes: A Trial With Compressible Flow Aerodynamics." ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. 2017. https://doi.org/10.18260/1-2--28546

I soon realized that for this method to be adaptable, I need to find a way to minimize the workload involved and yet have the same level of impact. So I decided to scaffold the entire process by giving it a bit of structure on what goes into the portfolio. I discussed the scaffolding process in the following ASEE paper:

  • Gunasekaran, Sidaard. "Integrated Teaching Model: A Follow Up with Fundamental Aerodynamics." ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. 2018. https://peer.asee.org/30677

The scaffolded approach reduced the time required by the students to structure and organize the portfolio without compromising the focus on the content and the 3C’s. 

Changing students' mindset is never easy!

In the beginning of all semesters, use of portfolio in my courses is constantly met with a lot of intransigence from students. It is not what they are used to, it takes more time and effort than preparing for an exam, and it requires a bit more mental effort than the conventional style. I make it clear to my students that nothing worth doing is ever easy and learning comes from within. Once the students go through the process, they see the benefits for themselves. 

Here's a qualitative comment from one of the students from SET:

“This is my second course taught by this instructor, and both follow the same pattern. He forces students to work incredibly hard in his classes, but the quality of learning is excellent. It sometimes feels he expects WAY too much out of his students, but the harder you work in his class, the more you learn the material and benefit in the long run. In his classes, he consistently fosters curiosity and encourages independent learning, both of which are indispensable skills I'll use for the rest of my life.” 

"Being a leader requires creativity, curiosity, agency, and responsibility."

Students are generally good at answering any questions asked in a homework and do the minimum amount of work to get a good grade. However, doing more than what is asked in their homework or a project requires creativity, curiosity, agency, and more importantly, responsibility. And if you think about it, this is the essence of being a leader. Apart from just teaching the students technical knowledge, I constantly strive to make them find the grit and the passion to go the extra mile that sets them apart from the crowd. 

Use of guided notes in classrooms

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of the courses that I teach are heavily math and derivation heavy. While it is important to go through the derivation process, students don’t get any benefit by copying the equations directly from the board. As such, I started using guided notes in my classroom where the derivations are printed out in a paper with key variables and steps missing. 

Students get to fill in the missing steps and variables through active engagement and interaction with other students in class. This made an effective means to go through the derivation much faster without compromising the rigor and the synthesis of the content. The use of guided notes in my courses is discussed in the following video along with a student testimonial:

What’s one of your favorite projects you’ve had students do?

Intro to EM in 2 Min

I have many favorite modules that I love doing in my class. My most favorite is the one which I do on the first day of every course I teach. The module is called “Intro to EM in 2 Min”. As I mentioned in the section above, I put the EM and 3C’s vocabulary in the syllabus. But some students struggle with understanding what an entrepreneurial mindset is. 

To demonstrate it, I do this activity where I state the following question shown in the image below: 

“Imagine you own a Boeing 707 airplane, and you have all the money in the world to spend on that airplane. 

What would you do with the airplane?”


I often get responses like “I am going to update the engines“, “I am going to make the wings more efficient“, “I am going to change the engine location“, “I am going to update the interiors“, etc. Most of the answers revolve around utilizing a “skillset” to better the airplane. 

Then I point out that nobody really answered the question of “What would you do with the airplane?" 

In the quest to obtain a skillset, they forgot the primary purpose of an airplane! In the last six years, I have had only two students who stated that “I am going to fill the airplane with food, fly to Africa to feed the need."

When I tell them this, students always have a look of disappointment that they failed to see the big picture. I use this opportunity to tell them about the importance of cultivating an EM mindset and being a value creator instead of just a problem solver.

"Knowing what problems to solve is just as important as knowing how to solve them."

Passion Projects

The other module that I love to do is passion projects.

I employ passion projects in most of my courses. When students think back on their formative experiences in the university, it won’t be the lectures or the classes they take but the opportunity to take ownership over an independent project and pursue a single idea. This experience will cement the student’s love for learning and the process of discovery. This was the inherent motivation behind designing the passion projects because it promotes independent study, sustainable, and residential learning. It is designed so that students acquire the skillset of scientific investigation through independent research, testing and analysis.

Throughout the semester, students choose a passion project of their interest and carry out literature review, building test matrix, wind tunnel testing, and data analysis throughout the semester. The students also teach their peers about what they learned that enhances the quality of conversation and learning in the classroom.

View these student passion projects:

Get materials to replicate this in your own class:

iFLY Wind Tunnel (Relatively New)

In the spring of 2023, I took my Intro to Flight Course students to the iFLY Tunnel at Cincinnati to teach them about terminal velocity and drag coefficient. The derivation of terminal velocity and its relation to the coefficient of drag was taught in a classroom located within the iFLY wind tunnel premises. Before their flight, students were prompted to estimate their terminal velocity based on educated assumptions of their body surface area, weight, and coefficient of drag. Subsequently, the actual terminal velocity was observed during their flight, which students used to determine their true coefficient of drag.

The experiential nature of flight, the sensation of drag on their bodies, and the thrill of flying, all contribute to promoting a strong sense of curiosity and an emotional connection to the subject. This curiosity often leads students to ask questions that extend beyond the planned learning objectives and establish connections to various other flight aspects such as thrust and power required for aircraft which will be covered later in the semester.

Get materials to replicate this in your own class:

What brings you joy in your work?

Waking up every day to go talk to students about aero. Whether it is teaching or research, the most joyful part of my job is and always will be interacting with students and working as a team to either achieve the learning outcomes of a class or research goals for a project. We are not just a group in class or research. We are a team, meaning we have a common goal. The community that we build around students is far more valuable than anything that I will ever do or achieve because it makes us become a better version of ourselves.

This is what brings me joy:


SidG_Joy6.jpg SidG_Joy5.jpg

SidG_Joy7.jpg SidG_Joy2.jpg



And I wouldn't trade this for anything else.

What are you most passionate about?

Airplanes, airplanes, airplanes. As many times as you ask it. I couldn’t get enough of it. There is something magical about airplanes. It is just a great example of human curiosity and ingenuity that is very unique. And there is a rich legacy to this field and I cannot believe that I get to live and work in the same town as the Wright Brothers.

If you would have told me in my childhood that this is what I do for a living, I wouldn’t believe it. This is a dream come true.

Why do you think entrepreneurial mindset is important for engineers to have?

“There needs to be a shift in the way we define engineers. We can no longer be just problem solvers. We need to be value creators.”

I think it is not enough for engineers to be just problem solvers anymore. As I stated earlier, knowing what problem to solve is just as important, if not more important than knowing how to solve a problem. There needs to be a shift in the way we define engineers. We can no longer be just problem solvers. We need to be value creators. The concepts that are taught in the different universities are the same. Newton’s laws, fundamental principles of fluid and aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, everything is the same regardless of where it is taught. So chances are most students graduate with the same level of skillset. To stand out, students need to cultivate the right mindset, which is the entrepreneurial mindset.

How have you benefited from being part of a larger community focused on EM?

“There is a saying within the Network that we come for the content but stay for the community.”

I was fortunate to be introduced to KEEN as soon as I started my job as a tenure track assistant professor. The first workshop I attended was the Integrating Curriculum With Entrepreneurial Mindset faculty development workshop which opened my mind to a new dimension of teaching that I wasn’t aware of before. I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t have the right vocabulary, the right structure, and the right mindset to approach  teaching, which is what the EM community gave me. I didn’t know how to invoke curiosity among students or make connections to find value. I attended the Intro to EM session every single time at the KEEN National Conference, where I picked up some tools and techniques that allowed me to implement EM in my courses.

Besides, there is a saying within the Network that we come for the content but stay for the community, which is 100% true. I have met some incredible faculty through my various roles in KEEN and I have learned and continued to learn from every single one of them. Looking at the impressive work that people are doing, I can’t be anything but humbled by the dedication that faculty across this country have towards educating the next generation of students.

How have you worked with colleagues on your campus to impact students?

Even though I have shared many of the modules that I developed from different courses with full time and adjunct faculty within my institution, I still feel like there is more to be done in terms of working with colleagues to impact students. One of the major reasons behind creating all my Engineering Unleashed cards and CourseDecks (cards that hold entire courses) is to share my teaching modules, ideas, and techniques to other faculty at UD and to faculty members in other institutions.

I have shared my pedagogical practices through cards, papers, workshops, and panels. I have shared all the modules that I developed for compressible flow with Dr. Carson Running who is currently teaching the course. I have shared the modules I developed for aerodynamics with adjunct faculty members such as Dr. Jose Camberos, Dr. Michael Ol, and Dr. Kasim Biber who is currently employing some of the real-word problem-based and project-based learning that I developed. I have also shared the EML modules that I developed for Engineering Materials to Dr. Robert Lowe, and the EML modules I developed to new faculty in the 2021 and 2022 KEEN Fellows meetings, as well as faculty in the Teaching Forum.

As a Learning Teaching Center Studio Fellow, I have shared the use of modern classroom technology and its integration into modern pedagogical practices through the following FlyerEd podcast:

As an Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation (IACT) fellow, I have shared the use of Ideation, Disruption, and Aha (IDA) pedagogy in the MEE 225 Introduction to Flight course through the following ASEE paper:

  • Gunasekaran, Sidaard. "Using Ideation, Disruption, Aha (IDA) Pedagogy in Introduction to Flight." ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. 2019. https://peer.asee.org/25203

The practice of using portfolios to assess 3C’s in my courses is also shared in these KEEN stories:

Recently, Dr. Ken Bloemer and I curated 50 unique content cards from EngineeringUnleashed.com and shared them with faculty members within the institution. These cards are centered around engineering topics like Fluid Dynamics, Heat Transfer, Statics, and Thermodynamics, and were given to faculty members within the School of Engineering.

What would you tell a faculty member who is getting started implementing EM?

My advice is simple: As Nike puts it, “Just do it."

Regardless of how big or small a module is, just try it to see if it works. It is very important to build momentum in just taking an idea and implementing it in the classroom because the more you do, the more the chances of you becoming successful in the classroom, and more importantly, the more chances of you becoming a better teacher. No matter where you are, there is always more to learn and improve.

It is also important to be surrounded by a community of like-minded people who share the same goals and vision as you. So become an avid member of KEEN, participate in programs such as Community Catalysts, and in other cohorts where you are working with faculty from other institutions on a common goal. It could result in more collaborative (and not competitive) work and proposals that will definitely benefit your career.

What advice would you give students about EM and their careers?

I firmly believe that curiosity is an inherent human trait, yet somehow, some students manage to suppress it or find it a waste of time. My advice to students is to embrace and allow that spark of curiosity, the out-of-the-box creative thoughts, no matter how insignificant they may seem, to flow freely. It will never be a waste of time; quite the contrary. Going above and beyond what is asked of you will lead you to discover your true passions and motivations that will guide you throughout your life. Because in that journey, you will discover yourself.

By investing effort and posing questions that surpass the necessary, you will forge an emotional connection with the subject matter. This emotional link will drive you to consistently seek ways to add value to those around you using the knowledge and skills you have acquired. As I always say, never underestimate the immense power of passion and curiosity in shaping who you are. These qualities will fuel your aspirations and foster a constant desire to make a positive impact on the world.


Sid_undergrad1.jpg Sid_undergrad1.jpg



What are you hoping to do with your Rising Star funding?

I am planning to develop modules in my courses that engage students through various hands-on learning activities. Aviation is currently undergoing significant changes, especially with the opening of the eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) market. Many of the proposed aircraft designs differ substantially from traditional configurations. It is VITAL for current students to understand these emerging eVTOL designs and their potential impact on the future of aviation—especially since it may take a decade or more for these modern designs to be included in textbooks.

To this end, I will create modules that integrate eVTOL concepts into courses such as Introduction to Flight, Aerodynamics, and Aircraft Design. These modules will cover fundamental principles, along with the value propositions and market niches these new designs aim to serve.

I am currently initiating conversations with BETA Technologies, an up-and-coming eVTOL company, to develop course modules that incorporate the key design principles of their bio-inspired aircraft, ALIA. These principles will be integrated into core aerospace courses and will guide students in designing, building, and flying RC-scale fixed-wing and quad-rotor drones for specific missions and needs.

Is there anything you want to share that we haven’t covered?

I have always wanted to dedicate my time to ensuring the presence of robust EML-focused aerospace content on engineeringunleashed.com. To achieve this goal, I've designed three-course decks, which are listed below. I would greatly appreciate any feedback or suggestions regarding these decks, and I'm open to collaborating on ways to improve them.