Rahul Kane has the number “34” tattooed on his chest. It’s a reminder of the amount of money he had in his pocket the day he started working as a graduate teaching assistant at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota in 2007. It was all he had left.
He had come to the United States from India in 2005 as a graduate student on a full merit-based scholarship, but he had to stop pursuing his doctoral degree due to certain extenuating circumstances out of his control. He lost his scholarship and, due to the stipulations of his student visa, was not allowed to work.
He was already living off his savings and eventually had to sell all his belongings to survive. Toward the end, he was left with just his clothes and a cell phone.
Saint Cloud State University was a turning point for Rahul. He was accepted into their graduate program in Cell and Molecular Biology in 2007 and was offered a teaching assistantship in the Biology Department.
“I did not want to ask anyone for help until I had nothing,” he said. “I still had $34 to restart my life with. If I hadn’t persevered through my graduate degree, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Rahul now teaches courses in Biology, Microbiology, and Anatomy and Physiology at Century College in Minnesota, where he is advisor to the Alpha Alpha Gamma Chapter. He has zero debt, he owns his own home, and he consistently looks for ways to give back and help his students.
One big way he’s doing this is by creating online resources to reduce costs to students. Rahul has partnered with Lrnr.us, a platform that offers courses and study materials based on open educational resources, to create affordable, rigorous, and effective STEM coursework in an online environment.
Access to Lrnr is $35 per student. A peer-reviewed high-quality e-textbook is available for the course for a fraction of the cost of a printed one, but owning the book isn’t required for his courses — the textbook is integrated into the Lrnr online course package.
All of Rahul’s courses that he teaches — whether in person, in the classroom/online hybrid format, or completely online — have the Lrnr online component and are completely textbook free. He has also created completely online, two-semester, transferable Anatomy and Physiology I and II courses that are currently going through the national Quality Matters certification.
“Students can buy a lab kit online, do the labs at home, and complete the semester at their own pace,” he said.
Others are taking notice of Rahul’s work as well. In 2016, Rahul was recognized as one of the Outstanding Educators of the Year by the Board of Trustees of Minnesota State Education System. In April 2018, he pitched an idea to a panel of judges in the Minnesota State Shark Tank event. He and Lrnr would partner to create 2D and 3D model-based activities for teaching anatomy and physiology completely online.
“A&P is a very tactile subject,” he said. “In 2D, you can’t read and know how a skull assembles or the heart works. My goal is to create online 3D activity and animation-based courses that are as rigorous as in-class courses.”
The Shark Tank judges loved his pitch — in May, he found out he’d received $25,000. The project will be completed in 2019.
“While similar programs are available, they are very expensive and out of the reach of a typical community college student,” he said. “This is a huge step toward creating affordable, high-quality and rigorous online science courses. I want community college students to get the same experience medical students get.”
The entire course, including the adaptive learning platform, integrated textbook, activities, assignments, practice quizzes, and the 3D animation-based learning platform, will cost the students only $35 per semester. This is a massive savings for a rigorous high-quality course, compared to other online course options and the traditional textbook options.
Included in the grant write-up is that Lrnr will give $2 per subscription from the state of Minnesota back to a higher education nonprofit that works in the state.
Rahul has also developed prep courses for TEAS and HESI, the exams students must take to get into nursing school and several other healthcare programs. He has been teaching these courses for a couple years now, and they appear to work — the average TEAS score nationally is 64 percent, and his students average 82 percent, he said.
After the tremendous success within Minnesota, Rahul wanted to make these courses available nationally and has partnered with Lrnr to create the TEAS and HESI courses in a completely online format. The courses include a pre-test, three post-tests, about 200 lecture videos that cover all the important topics on the exam, and several simulated quizzes that prepare students for the actual exam.
Rahul uses concept building and competency-based learning approaches in his classes — teaching styles popular in India that he says resonate with his students. He installed a professional video and sound recording studio in his basement and pre-records all lecture videos for his classes. They are available to students at the beginning of the year. He also holds online video office hours to connect with his students and solve any difficulties they might have.
Rahul was selected to serve as a Phi Theta Kappa 2018/2019 Faculty Scholar, and as such he certified advisors to teach the PTK Leadership Development Program Curriculum at Honors Institute 2018, held in June at Villanova University. He was also selected to be the STEM Representative on Phi Theta Kappa’s Honors Program Council and will begin a four-year term this fall.
“The United States has truly been a land of opportunity for me,” he said. “I have worked very hard to get to this place where I can give back generously. I am a living example of transformative power of higher education, and I want to create opportunities for the equitable access to higher education for all.
“I am genuinely thankful to PTK for recognizing my passion and allowing me to serve the students, who I hope will benefit from my work with them.”