Duane Abata has lots of energy. He's going to
need it as ASEE's new president and Northern Arizona's
-By David Brindley
OK., here's a riddle. Given these hints below,
can you come up with a name?
A member with a long history of activism in ASEE and an ambitious
agenda for the year ahead.
A successful professor of engineering with decades of experience
and a promising new appointment as engineering school dean.
An experienced CEO and entrepreneurial spirit with two start-up
This exercise is much too easy for most ASEE members. Obviously,
the answer is Duane Abata, the society's newly elected president.
In addition to the impressive list of accomplishments above, Abata
is also a down-to-earth, affable, regular guy with a self-deprecating
sense of humor. I would like to think I was elected because
of the statement I wrote on the ballot, Abata says, with just
a hint of a smile. But maybe it was because my name begins
with an A,' and they just checked the first name off.
More likely, ASEE members were already familiar with Abata through
a number of positions he has held and years of dedication to the
organization. A member since 1977, Abata was so eager to attend
his first annual conference that he drove from the Michigan Technological
University in Houghton, Mich., to New Orleansa nearly 3,000
mile round-tripwith his wife in the front seat of their Jeep
Cherokee and his 3-year-old son bouncing in the backseat. From
that zealous start, Abata soon became active in the North Midwest
and got involved with the Graduate Studies Division, working his
way up as secretary, treasurer, program chair, director, and chair.
He has also served on the ASEE Board of Directors as chair of the
Professional Interest Council.
What most people don't know about Abata is that he pins his
lifelong interest in science and engineering to a pivotal moment
in his childhood, a moment that came flooding back to him on a recent
visit to the National Geographic Society's headquarters in Washington,
D.C. In the lobby, Abata stumbled upon the original bathysphere,
the four-and-a-half-foot ball of steel used in the first manned deep
underwater exploration of the sea in 1934. Seeing the small vessel
brought memories of his second-grade primary-school teacher in 1957
telling stories of the historic descent. Miss Brue had us draw
it with colored crayons and fish floating by and a man peeking out
a window. This is the first time I've actually seen it. I have
an emotional attachment to that thing, a hunk of metal, Abata
enthused. I don't know if I was interested in science
and math because of the way my brain was put together, or because
of Miss Brue, but she might have a lot to do with why I'm
an engineer today.
Regardless of its origin, Abata took that interest and ran with
it, earning a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in
mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He then joined
the engineering faculty at the Michigan Technological University
in 1977, where he pursued research in cross-disciplinary exploration
of energy and held a variety of leadership positions, including
interim dean of the college of engineering. A tenured full professor,
has been recognized for distinguished teaching with numerous awards
from students, faculty, and from the State of Michigan.
In 2001 Abata took a leave of absence from his teaching duties for
a two-year appointment to the National Science Foundation, where,
as program director in the Division of Engineering Education
and Centers, he monitored 50 research centers in varied disciplines
subjects throughout the United States. Of his work at NSF, Abata
says it has been a good opportunity to examine what's happening
in engineering education from the perspective of looking at proposals,
learning about all the programs, and finding out what educators
are doing across the country. He says the experience has been
It's hard to top such an exciting appointment, but Abata did
just that in August when he became the new dean of the College of
Engineering and Technology at Northern Arizona University. With his
duties as dean and president of ASEE, it's going to be a challenging
year, but one that Abata is looking forward to. In particular, he's
eager to pursue some ambitious goals for ASEE.
As Abata sees it, ASEE is really a forum to present educational
techniques, educational procedures, for all facets of engineering.
That's what it's done throughout the years, and that
is our first and primary function.
Beyond that, however, there are several initiatives that the new
president seeks to emphasize during his tenure. In addition to
promoting gender equality and greater minority representation in the
education field, Abata hopes to expand the number of students in
the engineering pipeline by promoting science interest in the classroom at
the university, high school, and even kindergarten level. Abata's
own second-grade experience with the bathyspherethe Ah-Ha! moment
when science took hold of his imaginationshows how powerful
and lasting these early experiences can be.
Now there is a major thrust to really reach out and down, so to
speak, into K-12 schools. We're seeing a lot of practices
and things that people are doing to stimulate interest in science,
mathematics, and engineering, as far down as kindergarten, says
Abata. Grants are available for sociologists, psychologists,
and engineering educators to come together to talk about and to
examine the research on how a young mind thinks. How to put things
in such a way so that an individual, a young student can begin
to understand and really be excited about science and mathematics.
outreach will help ensure the flow of young brilliant minds that
thirst for scientific challenge and to know about engineering,
are aware of the things we do, and are excited to learn about the
and becoming not only engineers but, more important, future educators
of engineering in the academic environment.
Similarly, Abata hopes to increase the global reach of ASEE by working
with similar societies in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
To that end, Abata is looking forward to meeting with global partners
next year in Beijing at the third international conference co-sponsored
Last but not least is one goal that Abata is especially passionate
about: Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among engineers. It's
also a goal that he speaks to from experience. During the past
eight years, Abata has founded two high-tech companies, serving
for one. He also helped form the first entrepreneurial constituent
committee, now a division, at ASEE.
I'm very much interested in entrepreneurial development, Abata
explains. Engineers in general tend not to be risk takers.
I think a lot of that has to do with our educational process. We
just haven't developed that component of risk taking, of business
spirit, in the engineering schools.
In many respects, reaching out and discovering new opportunities
has been a recurring theme throughout Abata's life. And that
sense of wonder and enthusiasm animates him today as much as it did
when he was a second-grade student learning about the deep ocean: It's
just phenomenal what you find when you reach out beyond your own
David Brindley is a freelance writer based in Washington,
He can be reached at email@example.com.
The ASEE/NCS 2004 Spring Conference hosted by Western Michigan University
in Kalamazoo, Mich., April 1-3. Entitled "Excellence in Engineering/Technology
Education and Research," the conference will feature technical
sessions with papers presenting the latest teaching innovations in
engineering/technology education, laboratories, and research; exhibits,
workshops, and an awards banquet will also be held. Both hardcopies
and electronic forms of abstractsmaximum one page, in PDFshould
be sent by December 15, 2003, to Hossein Mousavinezhad, ECE Department,
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (269) 387-4057,
Fax (269) 387-4096, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit www.wmich.edu/~ece/asee.html.
Melvin P. Corley was named national outstanding adviser by
Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, for his work
with students. Corley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Louisiana
Tech University since 1980, has served as chief adviser to the society's
Louisiana Gamma chapter since 1998. Students and peers have credited
Corley for the Gamma chapter's recent rise in stature. He received
his bachelor's in mechanical engineering at Louisiana Tech and earned
master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas-Austin.
David A. Peters, the McDonnell Douglas Professor of Engineering
and chairman of the department of mechanical engineering at Washington
University in St. Louis, has been named a fellow of the American
Helicopter Society International (AHS). Presented at the society's
annual national forum held this past May, the AHS Fellow Award recognizes
those whose work to further the interests of the vertical flight
society was outstanding.
Ainissa G. Ramirez made Technology Review magazine's list
of the 100 top innovators under the age of 35. The magazine is published
by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ramirez, an assistant
professor of mechanical engineering at Yale University, earned a
Ph.D. at Stanford University. Her research interests include the
study of micro-electromechanical systems, optoelectronics, and the
mechanical properties of thin films.
Ross G. Spiegel was recently awarded the lifetime member
plaque by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). CSI is
an individual membership technical society with nearly 18,000 members,
including architects, specifiers, engineers, contractors, product
representatives, building owners, and facility managers. Spiegel
has been a member of CSI for 25 years and served as its president
from 2001 to 2002.
Gary Martin, assistant dean at the School of Engineering at the
University of the Pacific, has published a book entitled Welcome
to the Professional World. For the book he interviewed hundreds of
new professionals and their supervisors. Involved with career guidance
since 1983, Martin teaches a course that prepares students for entry
into the professional world. He is also active in studying diversity
in the workplace and co-operative education best practices.
Not surprisingly, the war in Iraq has had a devastating effect on
that country's engineering schools. Professors connected to
Saddam Hussein's Baath Party have lost their jobs, deeply affecting
departments at some schools. Some are appealing, arguing that they
had to join to protect their families or advance their careers. The
lack of electricity in some areas is a huge problem. Communication
is poor and there's very limited access to the Internetthat
is, when a computer can even be found. Many have been stolen. Laboratories
have been looted, and many engineering books and technical documents
have been burned. Iraqi engineering schools had a host of problems
before the war, but the recent fighting has made things worse.
Engineering professors have been unable to travel to international
since the mid-1980s when the Iraqi government stopped providing
ASEE executive director Frank Huband, along with officials from
other engineering societies, has been meeting with officials at
the State Department to determine how engineersincluding deans
and professorscan help rebuild Iraq, including its engineering
capacity. Hank Hatch, former head of the Army Corps of Engineers,
is heading another effort. Some proposals under discussion include
bringing a few Iraqi engineering deans to the Engineering Deans Institute
to discuss their needs, and arranging a conference, perhaps in Jordan,
for Iraqi and American deans. The needs of our Iraqi counterparts
are great, and we hope to make the full extent of our resources available
and help them any way we can,'' says Huband.
America owes much of its global leadership to science
and technology. The foundation of that technological supremacy
has been the K-12 science and math classroom. However, the foundation
is showing alarming signs of weakness. The number of college
completing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM) disciplines has been decreasing since the mid 1980s. Recent
reports from the Third International Mathematics and Science
Study and the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that
students continue to lag behind other nations in math and science
proficiency. And in many cases, the people who could be teaching
the nation's schoolchildren are working in other, more lucrative
and prestigious fields.
To reverse this trend and maintain a competitive edge
into the future, the ranks of STEM students need to grow. But increases
in gross numbers alone will not be enough. Tomorrow's technical
workforce must include more women and minorities to more fully represent
the interests of an increasingly heterogeneous society. Last year,
ASEE launched the EngineeringK12 Center to support the work of engineering
educators seeking to promote science and math at the primary- and
secondary-school levels. The center's mission is to attract
more and better prepared students to the field of engineering.
ASEE is uniquely positioned to engage in general engineering
outreach. We are the only group that encompasses all the engineering
disciplines, and that gives our efforts greater relevance to larger
numbers of people, says Eric Iversen, the center's managing
As part of that ambitious agenda, ASEE has published
a 64-page guidebook designed to get high school students excited
about engineering. Called Engineering, Go For It, it's
being distributed to high schools across the nation this month. The
book covers many innovative and dramatic aspects of engineering,
including the role that electrical engineers play in creating the
electronic music made popular by pop stars like Britney Spears and
Fatboy Slim. There are stories about how engineers are developing
amazing tools to fight terrorism and how the environment is much
cleaner today, thanks to engineers. This publication is the
anchor of our public awareness efforts, says Iversen.
Along with increasing awareness, the EngineeringK12
Center is also cataloging existing outreach programs run by academic
and corporate members of ASEE. Part of a broader effort to provide
useful knowledge to K-12 teachers and their engineering educator
partners, this catalog is the first step in developing tools to improve
outreach programs. Work will soon turn to developing a methodology
for evaluating the performance of these programs and determining
the benchmarks of excellence. ASEE will eventually make this information
available to outreach program coordinators for internal evaluation.
On the principle that an engineering education starts
with a child's first lesson in science or math, the center works
to build relations and promote exchanges between primary- and secondary-
teachers and engineering faculty members. ASEE is creating a community
of educators by discounting society membership to K-12 educators
and schools, forming a K-12 division within the society, and holding
discussions among the leaders in engineering education outreach. We
want ASEE to be the one-stop shop for efforts across the country
seeking to build the technical workforce of the future, says