New Faculty Hires to Revolutionize Engineering Program

Inspired by the objective of the NSF grant to develop Changemaking Engineers, a cluster hire of seven new faculty members devoted to social justice and humanitarian practices will help revolutionize the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering’s new BS/BA engineering program.

The most recent faculty members to join USD this fall are Diana Chen, PhD and Gordon Hoople, PhD.

Dr. Chen, a civil engineer from Clemson University with research interests in the areas of sustainable design, including biomimicry and adaptability in structural, city and regional applications, was especially intrigued by the NSF RED grant.

“I always knew I wanted to help people, to make a difference. It was one of the major reasons I entered the field of engineering and why I applied for the position at USD.“

Chen served as chair of the steering committee for Science as Art while at Clemson University, an outreach event with elementary through high school students. The committee revived Science as Art as a campus-wide festival, which aims to bridge disciplines by using captivating visual images of science projects to engage youth in STEM fields from a young age.

“It was an intersection of engineering, science, art and sustainability, which is what I’m all about. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to work with students during my graduate studies,” says Chen.

Additionally, while pursuing her PhD, Chen had a GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) graduate fellowship through the U.S. Department of Education. The project she chose revolved around biomimicry, where she dexplored an approach to be applied to civil structures that create sustainable solutions through adaptable structures.

For Chen, curriculum planning is a particular focus in her new role as assistant professor of general engineering. “I am so excited to help develop the general engineering program, especially with the RED grant, and continue my work to help make engineering students more aware of their impact on society.”

Dr. Hoople, a mechanical engineer, also serves as an assistant professor of general engineering. He was drawn to USD by the distinctive humanitarian approach employed at the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. He earned his MS and PhD from University of California, Berkeley and explained that his time at Berkeley opened his eyes to what was going on in the world.

“Undergraduate work is always so focused primarily on the technical aspects. After earning my BS, I worked three years in defense and aerospace then went to grad school. There, you could take classes outside of traditional engineering,” says Hoople, who adds that this approach helped to support a more holistic philosophy to his engineering approach. “Engineering is not just about fixing problems, it’s about finding out what is going on in a particular community and becoming a partner to find solutions.”

Hoople also collaborated with a team who emerged from an NSF ethics program at Berkeley and published a paper about nano ethics based on findings from 10 student philosophers from the Netherlands who discussed engineering ethics in depth with the team. Joining the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering faculty was an intuitive choice for him.

“Small classes coupled with Changemaking Engineering is what works best for engineering,” he explains. “I couldn’t have written a better job description. This is exactly what I want to be doing.”

In addition to the hiring of Dr. Chen and Dr. Hoople, Submramanian (Venkat) Shastri, PhD joined USD in 2015 as part of the initial cluster hire. Dr. Shastri serves as a professor of practice and director of industry partner programs. He is also involved in the launching of the school’s engineering and entrepreneurship program.

"I am delighted to be part of the USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, and have an opportunity to apply my academic, practical and entrepreneurial experience to enhance the student experience and prepare them to be tomorrow's Changemakers in the industry."

Prior to coming to USD, Shastri served as Chief Industry Advisor of PCN Technology, Inc., and in the preceding eight years, served as President and CEO of PCN. He grew the company into a market leader in communication, industrial networking and energy management solutions. He received his PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Massachusetts. Of note, he has published over 30 scientific articles in journals, magazines and conferences; was a research scientist at Yale University and consulting professor at Stanford; holds patents in controls, robotics, Bio-MEMS, and electro-active polymers; and has served as Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on large multi-center research grants and contracts. His passion, current research, and commercial endeavors are focused on sustainability.

Four additional candidates are slated to start January 2016 to round off the seven new faculty hires for Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering and they will be announced in the coming months.