Christos Kapoutsis receives the Meritorious Teaching Award from Dean Michael Trick.
Christos Kapoutsis receives the Meritorious Teaching Award from Dean Michael Trick.

Christos Kapoutsis receives 2024 Meritorious Teaching Award 

Christos Kapoutsis received the Meritorious Teaching Award at the Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) graduation ceremony for the Class of 2024. Kapoutsis, who joined the CMU-Q faculty in 2012, is an associate teaching professor of computer science.

Congratulations on your award! How did it feel to be recognized for your teaching?

Thank you. When my name was called, I was so surprised. I looked around to see if anyone else heard what I heard. It was unexpected, but I’m very pleased.


What can you tell us about the courses you teach?

One of the more challenging courses I teach is “Great Theoretical Ideas in Computer Science.” These are ideas that are very fundamental in computer science. They’re not ideas that you can grasp immediately. They’re deep ideas that you need to think about, maybe even for a week, before you get an idea about what’s going on. The challenge is for students to manage to go through all of them in one go, and that’s at a pretty strong speed.


Can you share your teaching philosophy with us?

Certainly. My main job is to teach proofs in theory. However, I believe there’s a sharp distinction between a proof being just a proof, versus a proof being also an explanation. Sometimes you read a proof, verify every step, and as a trained mathematician, you say the claim has been proven. But then you ask yourself, why is the claim true? You still can’t tell. There’s no ‘aha’ moment.

I always try to make sure that whatever proof I offer, it is also an explanation. I also try to make the learning experience pleasant for everybody, ensuring that everyone feels part of a team, that we all try together to understand the topic.


Did you always see yourself having a career in academia?

Yes, I did. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I remember saying to my friends, what can we learn next? I wanted to live the life of the mind. I also wanted to do something meaningful; I don’t want to spend my time doing stuff that after 10 years, 20 years, 50 years is going to be irrelevant. Teaching and research are each meaningful in their own way, and I suppose that makes university life an ideal life for me.


What do you hope your students take with them when they graduate?

The primary goal is for us to teach them how to learn. The education they receive here and at other top universities is like a storm that goes through their minds. They enter the university thinking one thing, and then the storm goes through and assumptions are challenged. This is how they learn, and it is what makes them ready for the world. 


What do you value most about teaching at CMU-Q?

I feel that I’m making a difference. I’m here, in this part of the world, teaching theoretical computer science to students who may not otherwise have access to this kind of education. And I have always felt that I’m at the intersection of two visions at CMU-Q. The first is CMU’s vision of a global university, and I think this is the way of the future. And there is also the vision of Qatar 2030, to transform itself into a knowledge-based economy. Not many societies take on the challenge to completely change course, and Qatar is one of them. So at CMU-Q, I feel I’m part of two big changes, and I’m very happy to contribute to both. 

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