SHSU Faculty Earns Prestigious Teaching Honor
Nov. 21, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins
Sam Houston State University’s Shyam Nair has been helping others through his knowledge of agriculture throughout his entire professional life. His passion and dedication to others through his field has already earned him the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Award for Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences despite working as an educator for less than a decade.
“This is not something one person can do alone,” Nair said. “I had a lot of support from my fellow faculty members, research collaborators, staff, and administrators. I am really thankful to my students. When I work with them, I am helping people, and that makes my life very satisfying. I have the best job in the world.”
Nair has received a plethora of awards since he began teaching eight years ago. None, however, are quite as prestigious as his current honor, which is the highest teaching award an agricultural or food faculty member can receive in the U.S. The annual national award comes with a stipend of $5,000 to be used for improving teaching.
Nair was born and raised in India. His home and farm were located on a one-fourth acre plot, where Nair and his family grew everything imaginable. It was here his basic knowledge of agriculture flourished from a young age.
“I grew up in a very small village,” Nair said. “You would probably have considered us poor, but I was fortunate enough to have parents who really took care of me and allowed me to have an education.”
This background ultimately led him to Kerala Agricultural University in India, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and master’s in agronomy. Soon after, a global disaster set the stage for his career in assisting others through agriculture.
“I worked as part of a charity helping farmers reclaim land following the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean,” Nair said. “We were helping farmers to create community-based organizations and to design experiments to reclaim land.”
He then worked as an agricultural officer at the second largest bank in India, focusing mainly on ag lending, before receiving an opportunity to come to the U.S. and earn his PhD at Texas Tech University.
“I would have never been able to come here if I hadn’t gotten a scholarship,” Nair said. “Steve Maas at Texas Tech University was looking for someone to work with a crop growth simulation model.”
He began taking classes in the agricultural and applied economics department and ultimately switched his major to this field while keeping plant science as a minor. After earning his PhD in agricultural economics, he began his postdoctoral work at Tech. During this year-and-a-half stint, he had an opportunity to teach classes for the first time.
“That really helped me evolve as a teacher,” Nair said. “All the students really liked the way I taught and, when I looked at the student evaluations, it was all positive. So, I thought, this is what I am going to do.”
Taking his love for teaching to the next level, Nair joined the faculty of SHSU in 2014.
Once again, Nair’s students immediately fell in love with his hands-on and immersive style in the classroom. In just eight years at SHSU, the associate professor of agribusiness and the assistant chair of the school of agricultural sciences has developed a beloved reputation amongst the student body.
“As a student, I was amazed by the ability of my great teachers who could distill complex ideas and convey them in a simplified manner,” Nair said. “They made me passionate about teaching and inspired me to strive to be a great educator someday. I never doubt the ability of my students and try to inculcate the growth mindset in them. I seek to foster a logical approach and critical thinking to boost their personal development.”
In his short time at SHSU, Nair has provided undergraduate research opportunities for more than 300 students. He helped develop a three-acre, high-fenced area with designed cover crop experiments at SHSU’s Gibbs Ranch as a part of his USDA Capacity Building Grant. The project provided funded research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.
Nair has worked on grants of more than $2.5 million that feature significant educational components, including recruiting, mentoring and undergraduate research. He is a fellow of the Texas Academic Leadership Academy and has served as Chair of the Educator Recognition Committee for the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) from 2019-2021. He also serves as coordinator for Texas FFA Area and State Farm Business Management Career Development events.
He is the faculty advisor of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and Alpha Gamma Rho, an agricultural honor society. He serves as the academic advisor for roughly 60 agribusiness majors and uses advising as an opportunity to get to know his students on a personal level.
His other teaching awards garnered include the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Teaching Award of Merit (2016), NACTA Educator Award (2017), SHSU College of Science and Engineering Technology Faculty Excellence in Research Award (2019) and Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award (2021).
Shyam is married to Nithya Rajan, a Professor of Crop Physiology & Agroecology at Texas A&M University.
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