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2021: A year of growth and leadership

Student strolling along sidewalk during afternoon with the front of Fitts-Woolard Hall and clear blue sky in the background.
A pedestrian strolls in front of Fitts-Woolard Hall on Centennial Campus. Photo by Becky Kirkland.

NC State College of Engineering faculty and staff members and students made some significant achievements in 2021, and the College continued to make strides as one of the top public colleges of engineering in the U.S. The College was named lead on two National Science Foundation (NSF) research centers, successfully brought students back to campus for the fall semester and announced an upcoming period of growth to increase the number of engineering and computer science graduates in North Carolina, among other successes.

Engineering North Carolina’s Future initiative will grow College

Researchers work in FREEDM lab.

Over the next five years, the state legislature’s Engineering North Carolina’s Future initiative is providing $50 million to increase the College’s enrollment by 4,000, hire new faculty members and improve facilities, all to help meet an increased demand for highly skilled STEM graduates in North Carolina. 

College takes lead on NSF center on phosphorus

NC State faculty members from the College of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are leading a new NSF Science and Technology Center — Science and Technologies for Phosphorus Sustainability (STEPS). The center, which is funded by a five-year, $25 million grant from NSF, is focused on decreasing both dependence on mined phosphates and the amount of phosphorus that leaches into soils and water. Jacob Jones, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will be the center’s director, working with faculty members across NC State and at eight partner institutions.

Computer science faculty members head up AI institute

Simulated graphics superimposed over an image of James Lester with his arms folded.

James Lester, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science, is leading the AI Institute for Engaged Learning, a new NSF research initiative funded by a five-year, $20-million grant. The institute is focused on developing and using artificial intelligence tools in education, building on years of work led by Lester and his colleagues in the Center for Educational Informatics at NC State. 

Fitts-Woolard Hall officially dedicated during Red and White Week

Alumni, students and friends of the College gathered in October for the dedication of Fitts-Woolard Hall, celebrating the culmination of a years-long effort to fund and construct the building. The dean’s office; the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE); and the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering have been using the new space since last August.

BTEC draws new biotechnology investments to North Carolina

Technician in protective clothing surrounded by equipment working in a BTEC lab.

The Golden Leaf Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) is a major draw for biotechnology companies considering coming to North Carolina. This year, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies announced its new site in Holly Springs, bringing 725 new jobs and a $2 billion investment in the state. In total, more than 1,600 new pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs were announced in 2021 in North Carolina.

NC State first in world for computer science education research

NC State was cited as the top institution in the world for computer science education research, or “the study of how people learn and teach computing, broadly construed.” The ranking is based on publication data collected from 2015-20 and was presented at the 2021 Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE)’s Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education.

New Day of Giving records support students

Students walking underneath atrium of Engineering Building I at dusk.

Alumni and friends helped set two new Day of Giving records for the College, raising more than $6.1 million from 1,615 gifts on March 24, 2021. Competing against other colleges and units at NC State, the College of Engineering finished runner-up for total donations and number of gifts. The outpouring of generosity will support the College’s departmental funds and student programs like Women and Minority Engineering Programs. 

First student graduates from 3+2 program with UNC-Pembroke

Dana Lamberton graduated with a degree in applied physics from UNC Pembroke and a degree in mechanical engineering from NC State as the first student to complete the 3+2 program. Started in 2016, students spend three years at UNCP and two at NC State.

Faculty Highlights

  • Dean Louis Martin-Vega was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Martin-Vega was recognized “for support of engineering and engineering education through industry-academic collaboration and opportunities for underrepresented groups.” 
  • Sindee Simon, an accomplished leader in the area of polymer physics, started as head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) in July. Simon was the P.W. Horn Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech University and served as the Whitacre Department Chair from 2012-19.
  • Christine Grant, professor in CBE, served as president-elect of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in 2021 and begins her term as president in 2022.
  • Five NC State Engineering faculty members — Lilian Hsiao, Alexandros Kapravelos, Natalie Nelson, Christopher Parnin and Ruozhou Yu — received the Faculty Early Career Development award, also known as the CAREER Award, from the NSF.
  • Two faculty members from the CCEE department were nominated for roles in the Environmental Protection Agency. Christopher Frey, the Glenn E. and Phyllis J. Futrell Distinguished University Professor, was nominated to be assistant administrator for the Office and Research and Development at the EPA. Joseph DeCarolis, professor and University Faculty Scholar, was nominated to be an energy information administration administrator at the Department of Energy.

Student highlights

  • Two 2021 graduates of the Department of Computer Science (CSC) are the third and fourth Churchill Scholars ever selected from NC State. Ana Sofia Uzsoy is studying machine learning and astrophysics before pursuing a Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard. Nikhil Milind is researching connections between human genetics and diseases before pursuing a Ph.D. in genetics at Stanford. The two alumni are among just 17 chosen from around the U.S. selected to receive a Churchill Scholarship in 2021 and are spending one year studying at the University of Cambridge.
  • Sean Mealin was the first blind student to graduate with a Ph.D. from CSC department. His research used computers to improve service dog training programs and communication between humans and dogs.
  • Britanya Wright, electrical engineering ‘21, was selected as the student speaker for the spring 2021 commencement ceremony.