KSU researcher creates environment that allows students to thrive

Dr. Ayse Tekes named 2024 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 16, 2024 

Ayse Tekes is a decorated researcher who has racked up an impressive collection of awards in her life. 

None are more meaningful to her than the 2024 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, given annually by the Office of Undergraduate Research to a KSU faculty or staff member who exhibits sustained exceptional mentoring of undergraduate researchers at KSU.

Dr. Ayse Tekes
Dr. Ayse Tekes
“This is the most honorable award I have ever received in my life, and it always will be the same,” Tekes said. “I will always feel like this is the award that no other award could compare to.”

Tekes, associate professor of mechanical engineering, leans on her life experiences to create a welcoming environment for each of her students.

Tekes comes from an underprivileged background, having been raised by a single mom of five children who Tekes describes as having an enduring spirit. Not only did the family face economic challenges, but Tekes’ mother was unable to read or write, so she did not come from an educated family, either.

Despite these challenges, Tekes prospered and is now committed to providing the same opportunities for her students.

“Being a first-generation student helped me a lot because I have struggled myself not having the resources I needed available to me at all times, but I think that has helped me to better mentor my students today because I understand their struggles,” Tekes said. “I experienced first-hand the value of education and its impact on one, along with their extended family.”

Tekes’ research focuses on the design, development, and modeling of soft robots and flexible machines and engineering education through the development of lab equipment and AI-powered virtual labs. 

While at KSU, she has received several external funding opportunities, with her most recent award being a $748,943 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund her project, “Multiple Representations of Learning in Dynamics and Control: Exploring the Synergy of Low-Cost Portable Lab Equipment, Virtual Labs, and AI within Student Learning Activities.” This project was a continuation of the one that was previously awarded.

“It all goes to the students,” Tekes said. “We received the second grant not because of me or the PIs, but because of the students. They gave me everything I wanted so we could actually produce more results. They attended and presented their work at conferences and made a name for themselves and us.”

Tekes takes her role as a mentor seriously and provides for her students every way she can. This has included helping them attend conferences by funding them herself if necessary, reaching out to students who may have fallen behind or are having a difficult time. She even dispenses snacks and hosts regular pizza parties for her students.

“I think providing food has a big impact on my students, because in my culture we say that if you don’t eat and drink with someone you are not going to have a strong connection,” said Tekes, who earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Istanbul Technical University in Turkey. “I like providing my students with snacks and food, especially because of my culture. Secondly, if you listen to them and if you ask how they are feeling today or how things are going in their semester, they will know that you care.”

Tekes joined KSU in 2016 as a tenure-track faculty member following a two-year stint as a post-doctoral researcher at Georgia Tech. Her role at KSU did not come with a lab space or a start-up fund, but Tekes made the most of everything she had available.

  • If you listen to (students) and if you ask how they are feeling today or how things are going in their semester, they will know that you care.”

“Despite these constraints, I remained committed to meeting the institution’s high research expectations by pivoting my research direction to maximize the resources at hand. Although this required a significant departure from my previous research path, it only took me a semester to discover that, yes, the greatest resource in my college or department was not the equipment or the facilities, but the students themselves. To me, they shone like stars.”

Tekes continues to inspire and motivate her students, with her main focus being on them and their success. In 2017, Tekes established her research team, Dynamics and Control Group, and since then she has worked with more than 200 undergraduate students. She makes it clear that her students come first which is a mentality that has deeply resonated with them. 

One of her students, Vanessa Young, is a non-traditional student who started college in her mid-20s. Young is a senior mechanical engineering major and is in her second semester working in Tekes’ lab.

“Last semester I was really looking for an opportunity to get into research and Dr. Tekes was my professor for vibrations and control,” Young said. “One day during class, she presented her research, and I was immediately interested. I reached out to her and after I had been accepted and got into the lab, I felt it was an environment that was very motivating, and it was just the opportunity I had been looking for. I was inspired by her drive, her ambition, and her student-first mentality. It really fosters an environment of productivity and community. She has created this space for students to truly reach their full potential.”

— Story by Alyssa Ozment

Video by Caitlin Callahan

Tekes Lab