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ASU professors share insights on future of engineering

September 24, 2018

National Academy of Engineering symposium gathered brightest young minds in field to connect and spark ideas about the future

From the horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed skywalk hovering 4,700 feet above the Grand Canyon floor to the highest dam in the Western Hemisphere towering 726 feet above the Colorado River, engineering innovations are crucial to the world’s advancement.

As the next generation of engineering leaders, two professors in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering shared techniques for advancing the field at the National Academy of Engineering’s 24th annual U.S. Frontiers of Engineering symposium on Sept. 5-7.

Mikhail Chester, an associate professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, was selected to participate in the symposium. Darshan Karwat, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Polytechnic School and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, was selected to speak at the event.

Along with nearly 100 of the nation’s emerging engineers who are performing exceptional research, Chester and Karwat attended the event hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts. The symposium covered progressive developments in four areas: quantum computing, the role of engineering in the face of conflict and disaster, resilient and reliable infrastructure, and theranostics.

The NAE’s mission is to advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and marshaling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology.

“It’s critically important to bring young engineers from different technical areas together to spark innovation,” said NAE President C. D. Mote Jr. “The Frontiers of Engineering program does this by creating a space for talented engineers to learn from each other and expand their technical perspectives early in their careers.”

Building more resilient and reliable infrastructure 

portrait of

Mikhail Chester

Chester represents one of only four ASU faculty members selected to participate in this prestigious symposium over the past 15 years. He participated in NAE’s 2013 Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium, an event fostering effective, substantive and inspirational engineering education. His experience at the education symposium fueled his desire to participate in the research symposium, so he was excited to be nominated to attend as one of 84 of the nation’s brightest young engineers.

“I was eager to collaborate with a community of really thoughtful people on topics of interest,” said Chester. “The participants came from a broad range of fields: industry, government and academia. It was nice to partake in a very balanced discourse where so many different stakeholders were represented.”

Chester’s research aligns with the symposium’s theme of resilient and reliable infrastructure, particularly related to climate-driven extreme events such as heat, precipitation and coastal or urban flooding. He studies how infrastructure might break and, more importantly, how engineers can build more resilient and reliable infrastructure so it doesn’t fail in the onset of extreme events.

Chester serves as a co-leader of ASU’s Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, also known as UREx SRN. The research network includes 17 partner institutions in nine cities across North and South America. Supported by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, UREx SRN aims to devise, analyze and support urban infrastructure in the face of climatic uncertainty and put cities on paths to sustainable futures.

“The symposium was a great opportunity to hear how different communities deal with the challenge of infrastructure vulnerability,” said Chester. “We came together, found common ground and can continue tackling these issues going forward.”

In addition to hearing from thought leaders on each of the symposium’s themes, Chester presented his own research and networked with other participants and speakers.

“I think climate change represents one of the greatest challenges to humanity,” said Chester. “It touches on every aspect of our lives so it’s important for engineers to create solutions for a better future.”

Spreading the ideals of peace, social justice and environmental protection

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Darshan Karwat

Karwat also believes engineering has the potential to build a better future. He runs re-Engineered, an interdisciplinary group that seeks to infuse engineers with the ideals of peace, social justice and environmental protection to drive technical design and decision-making for the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed in society.

“I find it problematic that in one of the most technologically advanced and resource-rich nations on Earth — the U.S. — you can still see large inequality and injustice around issues of the environment and technology,” said Karwat. “So, how can we shift the trajectory of engineering research and development to focus on these issues?”

Karwat’s talk, “Engineering for the People: Putting Peace, Social Justice and Environmental Protection at the Heart of All Engineering,” encouraged symposium participants to grapple with three questions: Why are we engineers? For whose benefit do we work? What is the full measure of our moral and social responsibility? The talk also focused on barriers engineers might face when trying to challenge the dominant way engineering is conducted. 

Karwat is one of only two ASU professors who’ve been selected as a speaker at the symposium in the past 15 years. He expressed gratitude to his colleague Mira Olson, an organizer of the Frontiers of Engineering symposium, who invited him to speak. Olson is an associate professor in civil, architectural and environmental engineering and the co-founder of the Peace Engineering program at Drexel University.

“I was around so many talented, brilliant and inquisitive engineers,” said Karwat. “I learned that many engineers — whether they verbalize it or not — do think deeply about the social implications of what they do. It’s definitely encouraging. So, I want to redouble my efforts to engage with engineers from across the country to generate more conversations about how engineering can be done for the public good.”

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Thunderbird provides culturally relevant mentorship for students from emerging countries

Thunderbird helps students remove cultural barriers to business networking.
September 24, 2018

SHARE fellows learn subtleties of networking

The Thunderbird School of Global Management is all about working across cultures, and after the school launched a generous scholarship program a decade ago, it has adapted the program to be more culturally competent.

Thunderbird is marking 10 years of SHARE Fellows, students from emerging countries who receive a full scholarship, expense money and mentoring. Over the past decade, 59 students from 29 emerging countries have received SHARE Fellowships to attend Thunderbird, which became part of Arizona State University four years ago. The fellows are encouraged to then give back to their communities.

“They end up being very active members of the campus because they don’t have those financial worries,” said Maria Houle, program director for the SHARE Fellowship.

“A lot of these students come from countries where you don’t give charity to people you don’t know, so many are surprised that alumni will give them money.”

The program was started in 2008 by Marshall Parke, who graduated from Thunderbird in 1977 and is now a partner and vice chairman of Lexington Partners investment firm.

“Marshall’s idea from his own experience at Thunderbird was that students from developing countries enriched the experience of everybody, and that they could make big changes in their own regions. But they needed mentorship,” Houle said.

Parke enlisted several alumni to raise money for the fellowship, with donors agreeing to be mentors to the fellows. But the mentorship piece didn’t take off, Houle said.

“These were high-end donors and we realized that with this population of students, many come from hierarchical cultures and they were uncomfortable calling them,” she said. “There wasn’t a formal procedure in place, and the students were very shy to initiate.”

Houle said that one student from Africa told her he couldn’t call someone he didn’t know.

“They did not have experience in calling strangers. That’s an American phenomenon,” Houle said.

So that’s where Houle comes in.

“Mentorship is a relationship that doesn’t have an end game, but we do have a goal: That the fellows have a job when they leave school,” she said.

“So we started setting career goals with the students, and I pull in people to be mentors as needed.”

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The SHARE Fellows get coaching in how to overcome cultural barriers to networking. The fellows from 2018-19, from left: Irene Kinyanguli, Younis Altaie (Unis Taye), Hala Al Kasm, Han Zhang, Pauline Nalumansi, Yully Purwono, Yagana Hafed, Lemmy Gitahi, Annie Wambita Okanya, Rexcel Lagare, Mfon Vanessa Udo-Ema and Madit Yel.

Mentors can be Thunderbird alumni or people that Houle has known professionally.

“We have loads of seminars on how to network and how to call a stranger and what they can expect to get out of it,” she said.

“And I try to get their heads around the idea that if they call someone, it gives that person validation for their experience.”

Houle gives the fellows a lot of attention.

“If they want to run every email by me for cultural appropriateness, they can. Sometimes I’ll reach out on their behalf and I’ll get the ball rolling for them,” she said.

Nana Oureya, who is from Togo, was a SHARE Fellow last year and graduated from Thunderbird in 2017. She said that making networking calls was difficult at first.

‘I was shy. I said, ‘Maria, I can’t do it.’ But she said, ‘No, you’re giving something and you’re asking something and you can build these relationships,’ ” she said.

Oureya, a financial analyst at Intel in Chandler, said learning to network was crucial because she rotates among departments every 18 months.

“You have to be comfortable talking to senior people and know the politics and who to reach out to,” she said.

With the coaching, Oureya was able to land a summer internship position at Intel in October of her first year.

“I was so relieved, and it was because of everything that Maria taught us,” she said. “She taught us about our resume, how to dress, everything from head to toe.”

Houle said that many of the SHARE alumni have mentored other fellows.

“Mentors tend to be people who are more advanced in a career, but these students are looking for the entry point and the best ones to help are the ones who have just done it,” she said. “When you have a Vietnamese talking to a Kenyan, both have dealt with work authorization or issues with English.”

Mentoring is one way the SHARE alumni can give back — something the program encourages once they are settled in their careers. Some SHARE alumni support the community through their jobs, such as working in a nonprofit. Others have launched initiatives. Tenzing Paldon Nepali, a SHARE Fellow in 2014, co-founded Kalyani, a nonprofit to improve the health of women in rural Nepal. Stefan Dyulgerov of Bulgaria, a fellow in 2015, is a co-founder of the Society for Unity, which promotes education and civic values in southeastern Europe.

Rexcel Lagare is a current Thunderbird student and a SHARE Fellow who hopes to grow the economy in his native Philippines.

“My game plan now is to boost my skills portfolio to make me more qualified for advanced management positions, which in turn will raise my network and influence by being a successful business leader,” he said.

“That would provide that proverbial beacon of hope that will help eliminate poverty — currently the driving force in lawlessness and crime.”

Oureya is interested in helping girls in her native Togo aspire to higher education.

“You have to give back,” she said. “It’s like a chain, and that’s how you amplify the effect of what SHARE gives you.”

Top image from Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now