American academic (born 1961)
Preetha Ram is cofounder and chief executive officer of Inquus Corporation (OpenStudy). She is on leave as associate dean for PreHealth and Science Education in the Office of Undergraduate Education of Emory University, where she was founder and Executive Director of the Emory PreHealth Mentoring Office (PHMO), founding co-director of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, and founder and Director of Interdisciplinary Science Program for Integrating Science into Education. At Emory, she founded several educational initiatives, including Science Experience Abroad, ChemMentors peer-to-peer learning program that grew into the Supplemental Instruction model for Emory College, and International Research Experience for Science fellowships.
Early life and education
Preetha Ram was born in Chennai, India. She grew up in a household with a younger brother and sister. Her father Rajagopalachari Parthasarathy, was a railway engineer, and her mother Choodamani, a homemaker.
She received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Women’s Christian College in Chennai, India, later receiving a Master of Science in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. She left for the United States in 1983 to pursue a PhD in Chemistry. She first enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she met her soon-to-be husband, Ashwin Ram, whom she married in 1984. She left Illinois for Yale University in 1984 to pursue higher studies in biophysical chemistry. She received her PhD from Yale University in 1989, and her MBA from the Goizueta Business School in 2010. She lives in Palo Alto and has three children, Nikhil, Maya and Naveen.
Preetha Ram joined Emory University since 1989. As chemistry faculty, she taught Introductory Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry, and Physical Chemistry. She created a new problem-based learning approach to introductory science education, which she published and introduced to large freshman classes and small upper-division seminars. She was appointed Associate Faculty in Educational Studies, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Chemistry, and in 2005 moved to higher university administration as a dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education.
As founding co-directors of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI), Ram and Lobsang worked with the Dalai Lama to help develop a curriculum and instructional model for educating Tibetan monastics. Under her direction, ETSI faculty instructed Tibetan monastics on western science, including cosmology, biology, physics, chemistry, and neuroscience, balancing western thought with Buddhist theology. She edited the instructional handbooks, A Handbook of Science and The Structure of Science. ETSI plans to have “a comprehensive science curriculum” within the realm of monastic education in place at the major academic monastic institutions by 2013.
Ram believes that international experience abroad is a critical part of the college experience for all students, but most particularly science students. Ram pioneered the first science summer study abroad program at Emory, Chemistry Studies in Italy, and replicated the model with Neuroscience in France, Environmental Science and Biology in Australia, and Global Health in South Africa. Her study abroad program won the Best Practices in International Education Award in 2007.
Ram is not afraid of controversy. She brought science and religion in close proximity through the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative. She introduced problem-based learning pedagogy to undergraduate science, coupled with web-based technology for peer learning on a large scale. These innovations led to the Open Social Learning framework, created in collaboration with Ashwin Ram and Chris Sprague, which allows open education to be scaled to millions by enabling students to teach each other using social web technologies. She introduced a new crowdsourced credentialing system to assess soft skills such as teamwork, problem solving and engagement using web analytics and peer recognition instead of traditional tests and grades. These innovations led to an e-learning startup company, OpenStudy, which created the first global-scale open social learning network and crowdsourced credentialing system.
Ram is on the advisory board of Future of Learning at the Institute for the Future, advisor and former Dean at the University of the People, and member of Project Kaleidoscope, an organization devoted to the improvement and sustainability of undergraduate programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Awards and honors
- 2012: “150 Innovators in Post Secondary Education”. White House Sci&Tech, Dept of Education
- 2012: Invited speaker, TEDx San Jose, “Teaching It Forward”
- 2012: “Innovators Spotlight” presenting to Melinda Gates, League of Innovation in Community Colleges
- 2012: Top 50 Innovative Companies in Education, TechCrunch
- 2008: Institute of International Education Andrew Heiskell Award for Study Abroad
- 2008: Faculty Recognition Award for Distinguished Service
- 2005: Convocation Speaker at Emory for the Entering Freshman Class of 2009
- 2003: Emory College Winship Award for Excellence for Senior Lecturers
- 2002: Coca-Cola Toast Award for Emory College Seniors Banquet
- 2001: Faculty for the 21st Century Award
- 1998: Emory College’s Excellence in Teaching Award less
- “Rethinking Educational Assessment Using Crowd Sourcing”, Stanford Media X Seminar
- “Teaching it Forward”, TEDx San Jose
- Keynote Speaker, Mercer University Leadership Academy
- Education and Technology Panel, Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association
- “Creating a World of Learning”, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington DC
- “Digital Badges and Open Access to Quality Online Learning”, National University
- “Hacking the Future of Education”. Institute for the Future
- “Education as a New Growth Frontier in Media”. World Economic Forum, New York.
- “Synchronize Panelist and Chief Guest” Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore, India.