Ramesh Balayar awarded for excellence in teaching


Ramesh Balayar

Awarded for his excellence in teaching, Ramesh Balayar, an assistant teaching professor in sociology and criminal justice, had no initial intentions of becoming a professor.

Balayar has been educating and advising students and faculty within the sociology department for the last six years and was awarded the Emory Bogardus Teaching Excellence Award on Friday.

According to Colin Larter, a sociology and criminal justice graduate student, the Emory Bogardus award is given to a sociology and criminal justice faculty member whose work promotes academic excellence and scholarships among students.

“The Bogardus award is named after sociologist Dr. Emory Bogardus, who was the founder of Alpha Kappa Delta [the sociological honor society],” Larter said.

Balayar said initially, he had no involvement in the sociology and criminal justice field. He said after spending years in international development, he was invited to teach environmental sociology at Iowa State.

“My students thought I was doing great and they really enjoyed it, but I didn’t see [teaching] as a long-term commitment,” Balayar said.

Balayar said he has experience working in rural community development, governmental programs and policies and the United Nations.

In 2020, Balayar became an academic adviser and began teaching multiple subjects.

“At that moment, I started to relate all these students–young students, my own children,” Balayar said. “I don’t know whether students wanted that ‘third parent’ on campus, but I felt deeply motivated and thought, ‘Wow, this is beautiful.’”

Balayar said one thing he realized was his ability as an academic adviser to share his knowledge with young students and make them global citizens.

“I found this was very interesting, and I’m very fortunate that I have this privilege to be part of teaching,” Balayar said.

Balayar said he does not solely think about the job as teaching but also facilitating and reflecting on his education from his youth and life experiences.

“I have lived such a different life, and I come from a rural village in Nepal,” Balayar said. “My educational journey was very difficult.”

Balayar said he had to walk three hours daily to high school to obtain his diploma.

“When I [thought] about education […] I felt, well, this is beautiful, and maybe I could shape these students’ mindsets [to help them become] global citizens and responsible people to help others,” Balayar said.

Balayar said he is a development sociologist and considers himself a rural sociologist. He said when he was asked to teach environmental sociology, he found it nerve-wracking and worried that the language barrier would affect his teaching ability.

“I thought that my language could be a problem,” Balayar said. “I speak multiple languages, but English is my fourth language, so I was really nervous about it.”

When Balayar successfully navigated his obstacles, he was asked to teach global poverty as well.

“That’s what I really enjoy; that’s my field,” Balayar said. “I found myself having more confidence afterward, and then I was asked to teach a sociology class on inequality, […] a class on agriculture in transition and on society in transition.”

Balayar said the diversity of the subjects made him nervous in preparing to teach a new course.

“I’m very fortunate I did it,” Balayar said. “It was a motivation that really inspired me, propelling me to actually look into new horizons and try to explore, study hard and prepare for the lectures.”

Balayar said he is simply trying to improve as an educator and learns a lot from his students. He said inclusivity and engagement are his main goals within the classroom.

“When the students are not understanding or lagging behind, you can’t just blame students. It’s a problem from the instructor’s part as well,” Balayar said.

Balayar said he has always thought that teaching and academic advising for students at an undergraduate or graduate level cannot be solely a profession; the responsibility is far more personal than the job.

“You have a tremendous responsibility to work with these people,” Balayar said. “It’s a purpose; it’s a goal and an objective in your life.”

Balayar said whether someone grows to become an assistant teaching professor or professor, one should always vie for the success of their students.

“You should always see the growth [in your life], but your ultimate growth is actually how much of an impact you made in people’s lives, especially young people,” Balayar said.

Balayar emphasized the importance of obtaining a higher education and its ability to shape students’ character to help them become global citizens.

“It’s a noble thing; it’s a beautiful thing to engage with young people and share your experiences and reflections and make them better citizens,” Balayar said.

Balayar said because he engages with students from diverse backgrounds, he strives to understand the students’ perspectives.

“My biggest challenge is to let them express [themselves] because America is a very independent society and students don’t share their problems often. You have to force them to [explain] and understand their problems,” Balayar said.

Balayar said his philosophy for teaching is that any instructor, even a talented one, should allow students to contribute. He added that he always tries to act as an equal to students versus as their superior.

“Everybody’s learning; nobody’s left behind,” Balayar said. “The way our classrooms are designed where you have to stand in front of the students [with] the students facing towards you, I would rather prefer to have a round sitting room where students can actually all feel included.”

Balayar said his work-life balance is not always equal. He said he is grateful his two sons are grown and attending college, as his ability to teach and balance family life is difficult.

“One of my students was [asking] me actually, ‘Do you always reply within 5-10 minutes?’, so that’s my problem,” Balayar said.

Balayar said sociology and criminal justice professor Dave Peters has significantly impacted his career.

“Every time I have any issues or problems, I’ve asked for his help and support and he’s always been available,” Balayar said.

Peters said students want to take Balayar’s courses, and they seek out spots within them.

“Even if they’re not interested in the topics he’s teaching, they just want to have him as an instructor because […] he makes things lively,” Peters said. “He really asks students to be reflective, and he ties it back to the wealth of experience he’s had.”

Peters said Balayar differs from a traditional academic who has spent their entire life at a university. He said Balayar has spent a significant portion of his life doing developmental work, which allows students to relate the theories and concepts in the curriculum to Balayar’s background.

“Students appreciate that and they appreciate his happiness, his kindness and his willingness to make time for students,” Peters said.

Peters said Balayar’s character within the classroom translates to his advising role in the agriculture and rural policy major where he is available as a mentor and friend to students, adding that Balayar’s willingness to let students disagree with him is a skill that many professors lack. Peters said this is a significant reason why Balayar is a successful educator.

“Ramesh teaches courses on environmental sociology and sustainable agriculture. So, he’s able to engage with students about what we call non-conventional organic agriculture, and some of those students are very resistant to that idea; coming from foreign backgrounds, that’s what their parents do,” Peters said.

Peters said Balayar brings up topics that challenge students’ assumptions in a way that does not make them feel attacked or that their parents are being attacked for their beliefs.

“[They have] that mutual respect where students feel free to disagree with Ramesh and Ramesh feels free to disagree with them, and the true essence of education is trying to find an environment where people can freely express ideas and better understand opposing views,” Peters said.

Peters said Balayar has established his presence and significance within the department despite entering the teaching field with hesitancy.

“Americans tend to not have a problem telling people their opinions, but in different cultures, people are much more hesitant to do that, so I think he’s learned to strike his own balance and find how to get his ideas across critique when it’s necessary but in a way that he feels comfortable doing,” Peters said.

Peters said Balayar is unique in his ability to get students to think about sociology and agriculture more diversely and from different perspectives. He said educating students on how to think about the world differently is more impactful than most research on the subjects that can be taught in the classroom.

“Young people are the ones who are going to have to live with the world’s current situation and going to have to be able to figure it out, so giving students those [critical thinking] skills has a much longer staying power than some research grant or some publication that 50 or 100 people will read,” Peters said.