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WPI Welcomes New Full-time Educators and Researchers to its Faculty Ranks

Part of an unprecedented investment in talent that has brought 208 new full-time faculty members to campus over the past eight years, this is one of the largest entering faculty classes in WPI's history.

December 13, 2013

WPI this fall welcomed 30 new full-time professors to its faculty ranks, including 24 newly arrived educators and researchers (among them, new heads for the departments of Management and Mathematical Sciences). One of the largest groups of entering faculty in the Institute's history, the new faculty class continues a historic investment in talent that has brought 208 new full-time faculty members, including 114 new tenured and tenure-track faculty, over the past eight years.

"These researchers, scholars, educators, and leaders bring an exceptional range of expertise and experience to our campus," said Eric W. Overström, provost and senior vice president. "With their outstanding professional accomplishments and diverse interests, they will help WPI meet an unprecedented demand for our undergraduate and graduate programs and expand our reputation for education and research that blends theory and practice to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems."

Here are the 24 newly arrived full-time faculty members:

Mahdi Agheli, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering, joined the WPI faculty after receiving his PhD in mechanical engineering from WPI this spring. His expertise is in legged robotics, parallel mechanisms, mechatronics, and soft robotics. While working as a postdoctoral researcher and research associate at WPI, he presented at the IEEE/ASME International Conference on Mechatronic and Embedded Systems and Applications, where he won the award for the Best Paper in Theory in 2012 and the Best Student Paper in 2013.

Ivon Arroyo, assistant professor of learning sciences and technologies, was most recently a senior research scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, were her research focused on the automatic detection of achievement emotions as students use intelligent tutors. Her current research focuses on intelligent tutoring systems, multimedia learning, affective pedagogical agents, and wearable learning. She received the Best Paper Award at the 2010 International Conference on Educational Data Mining, and a project she led titled "What Kind of Math Software Works for Girls?” was highlighted by NSF in 2011. She holds an EdD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Melissa Malouf Belz, assistant teaching professor in the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division, spent 10 years working in sustainable architecture and international development for National Historical District in Colorado and United Nations Development Program, among other agencies, before joining WPI. Her expertise includes vernacular architecture and cultural landscape change, the role of traditions in modernizing societies, and food systems. In 2011, she received the Society of Women Geographers Pruitt National Fellowship. She earned a PhD in Geography at Kansas State University.

Maxim Bichuch, assistant professor of mathematical sciences, is an expert in mathematical finance, with particular research interests in optimal portfolio selection, optimal control, and optimal investment and consumption with transaction costs. Before joining WPI, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, and he previously gained corporate experience with Bear Stearns and Citigroup. He holds a PhD in financial mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University.

Luca Capogna, professor and head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, was most recently a professor of mathematics at the University of Arkansas and associate director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on partial differential equations and analysis, calculus of variations and analytic aspects of quasiconformal mappings, sub-Reinmannian geometry, and minimal surfaces and mean curvature flow. He received an NSF Early Career Award in 2002 and has held visiting positions at Princeton University, New York University, University of Michigan, and the University of New South Wales. He received a PhD in mathematics from Purdue University.

Raghvendra V. Cowlagi, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, conducts research on autonomous mobile vehicles, with a particular focus on motion planning and optimal control and formal methods for system safety and reliability. Before joining WPI, he was guidance, navigation, and controls engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, a leader in the development and manufacture of advanced unmanned systems and aerospace vehicles, and was a postdoctoral associate at MIT. He received the Best Student Paper Award at the American Control Conference in 2009 and the Aeronautical Society of India Award in 2005. He received a PhD in aerospace engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Joseph F. Cullon, assistant teaching professor of history in the Department of Humanities and Arts, is an expert on early American history, the history of technology, American studies, and visual culture. Before joining the WPI faculty, he was an assistant professor of history at Dartmouth College. In 2008 he received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue research at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, which was founded jointly by the College of William and Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He earlier received a Mellon Post-Dissertation Fellowship. Cullon holds a PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Blake H. Currier, assistant teaching professor of physics, has expertise in neutron radiography, brachytherapy, and external beam radiation oncology. For his thesis research he developed a new imaging modality which could help physicians "see" through metallic implants and better detect certain cancers. He has ongoing research with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Raytheon, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Before joining WPI, he taught math and physics at Lowell, Mass., High School through an NSF fellowship. He received a PhD in medical physics from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Dimitrios Koutmos, assistant professor in the School of Business, was most recently an assistant professor of finance and banking at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. He has also worked as a financial risk underwriter for United Health Group Inc. His current research focuses on asset pricing, econometrics, behavioral finance, corporate finance, and banking. A recurring theme of his work is the identification and plausible quantification of forces that drive fluctuations in asset prices, including determining whether a tradeoff between risk and return manifests in the movement of asset prices. He holds a PhD in finance from Durham University in the UK.

Anthony B. Linn, assistant teaching professor in mechanical engineering, was previously a research engineer and adjunct professor at WPI and engineering director for RemoteReality Corp., which designs and manufactures ultra wide-angle computational cameras and video systems. An expert in NASA's personal air vehicle program, aircraft certification, unsteady aerodynamics, and turbulence formation, he is chair of the New England Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and a member of the AIAA General Aviation Technical Committee. He received a PhD in mechanical engineering from WPI.

Yuxiang Shawn Liu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, where his research was funded by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Fellowship. Liu's research interests include optical trapping, optofluidics, nanophotonics, cavity optomechanics, and fiber optic sensing systems, with potential applications that include on-chip disease diagnosis, in vivo disease treatments, and motion detection in consumer electronics. His research has been published in Nature Nanotechnology and Physical Review Letters, among other journals. He holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland.

Karla Mendoza-Abarca, assistant professor of entrepreneurship in the School of Business, was previously a teaching fellow in the College of Business at Kent State University. Before that she worked for entrepreneurial companies conducting feasibility analyses and market research. Her research focuses on social entrepreneurship, social value creation, entrepreneurial opportunities, and creativity and innovation. Her work has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing and Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, among other journals. She earned a PhD in marketing and entrepreneurship at Kent State University, where she received the University Fellowship.

Amy M. Peterson, assistant professor of chemical engineering, was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany, where she studied coatings for titanium implants that are capable of the controlled release of growth factor. In her lab at the WPI Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, she conducts research on the fundamental aspects of polyelectrolyte complexes, which can be used to develop novel materials, particularly for biomedical applications. She has received an Alexander von Humbolt Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2012) and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (2008). She earned a PhD in chemical engineering at Drexel University.

Pratap M. Rao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, conducts research on the design and synthesis of nanostructured solar and battery materials that can serve as the building blocks of economical, large-scale, clean energy technologies. His current interests include the development of materials for inexpensive yet efficient solar cells that can generate electricity or produce chemical fuels such as hydrogen and methanol. His work has led to 18 peer-reviewed papers in such publications as Nano Letters, Nature Communications, and the Proceedings of the Combustion Institute. He earned a PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford University.

Kamal A. Rashid, research professor in biology and biotechnology and director of WPI's Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center (BETC), was previously an associate director and research professor of Toxicology at Utah State University, where he named was International Professor of the Year in the College of Agriculture in 2011. An internationally recognized leader in biotechnology education, research, and workforce development, with research expertise in biotechnology training courses and the impact of environmental pollutants on human health, he brings to WPI more than 30 years of experience in academia and industry. Rashid holds a PhD in environmental toxicology from The Pennsylvania State University.

Joseph Sarkis, professor and head of the Department of Management within the School of Business, joins WPI from Clark University, where he was a professor and interim dean of the Graduate School of Management. He is internationally recognized for his research in green supply chain management and operations sustainability, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Advanced Research Projects Agency, among other organizations. His more than 300 publications have garnered over 10,000 citations. Over the past eight years, he has been a visiting scholar at universities in China, Finland, Hungary, Spain, and Wales. Sarkis received a PhD in management science from the State University of New York at Buffalo

Purvi Shah, assistant professor of marketing in the School of Business, joins WPI with diverse industry experience in marketing and brand management function across consumer goods, retail, and real estate verticals. With expertise in brand strategy, social media, and marketing education, she conduct research that attempts to explain interesting and challenging marketing phenomena that have received little research attention. Among her previous marking accomplishments, she managed marketing operations for Eco-Car: The Next Challenge, a collegiate engineering competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. She holds a PhD in marketing from Texas Tech University.

Patricia A. Stapleton, assistant teaching professor of social science and policy studies and director of WPI's Science, Technology, and Policy Program, was a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire before joining WPI. In her research, she explores questions of food safety and food security, particularly the development of new food production technologies. She also studies agricultural biotechnology regulation in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her work has been published in Agriculture and Human Values and the European Food and Feed Law Review, among other journals. She earned a PhD in political science at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Ming Su, associate professor of biomedical engineering, joins WPI from the University of Central Florida, where he was an associate professor. He works in the emerging field of nanomedicine. In particular, he is exploring the use of nanoparticles to detect disease biomarkers, remove heat from biological systems, enhance radiation therapy, and detect ersatz drugs. His research has garnered a number of awards, including a Department of Defense Concept Award, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, and Department of Justice New Investigator Award. Su received a PhD in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University.

Geoffrey A. Tompsett, assistant research professor of chemical engineering, was most recently a research assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he also completed a postdoctoral research appointment. With expertise in biofuels, catalysis, spectroscopy, he coordinated a multi-university research program centered at UMass and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project explored the catalytic conversion of biomass to JP-8, a jet fuel used by the U.S. military. Tompsett has co-authored more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He earned a PhD in materials science at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Karen L. Troy, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, was previously an assistant professor in the Departments of Kinesiology and Nutrition and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With a background in orthopaedic, whole-body, and comparative biomechanics, she currently focuses her research on the biomechanics of fall avoidance and fall-related fractures in aging adults. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health (including a $1.4 million award in 2012) and the Department of Defense, explores the interaction between the mechanical loading of bones and bone structure and adaptation in healthy and diseased people. In 2010, she received the Orthopaedic Research Society's New Investigator Recognition Award. Troy received a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa.

Shamsnaz S. Virani, assistant teaching professor of electrical and computer engineering, was an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University before joining WPI. Before that she was a research assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she was co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant to develop a master's program in software systems engineering. With research interests that include system design quality and mental models, she uses machine learning algorithms and other advance data analysis techniques to predict design quality factors such as reusability. She earned a PhD in industrial and systems engineering at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Mordecai Waegell, assistant teaching professor of physics, joined the faculty after completing his PhD in physics at WPI. His research has been in the area of quantum information processing, and he has published several papers on geometyric structures in Hilbert spaces that can be used for nonclassical processing. Hilbert spaces are mathematical concepts that extend the methods of vector algebra and calculus from the two- and three-dimensional space to spaces with any finite or even an infinite number of dimensions. Waegell's most notable paper, “Proofs of the Kochen-Specker theorem based on the N-qubit Pauli group,” appeared in Physical Review A.

Mei Yang, assistant research professor in mechanical engineering, was most recently a postdoctoral fellow at WPI, where she received a PhD in materials science and engineering. In her research, she explores materials and processes design through a combination of experimental work and computational thermodynamics and kinetics. Much of her previous work has focused on the simulation of thermochemical surface treatment processes. She is the co-author of 10 peer-reviewed journal papers, one of which earned the 2012 HTS/Bodycote Best Paper in Heat Treating Award.

In addition to the newly arrived faculty members, six incumbent faculty members were elevated to the status of full-time professor. They are:

Marja Bakermans, assistant teaching professor in Undergraduate Studies, conducts research aimed at conserving biodiversity by maintaining viable wildlife populations across the landscape. Specifically, her work, which has been funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, addresses the influence of manmade disturbances, like forest management, urbanization, and agriculture, on wildlife. She has extensive teaching experience, most recently in WPI's Department of Biology and Biotechnology. In her new role, she will be teaching courses in biology and also working in the first-year Great Problems Seminars program. She earned a PhD in natural resources at The Ohio State University, where her dissertation research focused on habitat management implications for bird populations.

Natalie G. Farny, assistant teaching professor in biology and biotechnology, conducts research on why and how cells regulate the translation of messenger RNAs into proteins, with a particular interest in the role of protein synthesis in autism spectrum disorders. As a postdoctoral associate at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, she worked to understand the underlying molecular pathology of Fragile X Syndrome, the most common heritable form of mental retardation and the most common known cause of autism. A paper on this research co-authored by Farny recently appeared in Nature Medicine, the premier journal for biomedical research. She received her PhD in cell and developmental biology from Harvard University, where her work was recognized by awards from the Association for Women in Science Educational Foundation and the Hauser Scholar Program at Harvard.

Fiona Levy, assistant teaching professor in mechanical engineering, was previously an adjunct teaching professor at WPI. Her research, conducted in the United States and at the Applied Research and Development Center at Mintek in South Africa, has focused on the pseudo-binary and ternary phase diagrams of alloys made from aluminum, copper, and gold, and the transformation behaviors and crystal structures of selected phases of those alloys. She earned a patent on a ferro-alloy casting process that has been adopted by industry. She holds a PhD in physical metallurgy and materials science from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Geoffrey Pfeifer, assistant teaching professor in humanities and arts and Undergraduate Studies, was previously an adjunct professor at WPI. His areas of research specialization are social and political philosophy, development ethics, global justice, and contemporary continental philosophy, and he has published a number of articles, chapters, reviews, and review essays on these topics. His responsibilities at WPI include teaching in the first-year Great Problems Seminars program and in the Department of Humanities and Arts. He received a PhD in philosophy from the University of South Florida.

Salvatore Triolo, assistant teaching professor in chemistry and biochemistry, earned his PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he worked on the development of novel reagents for peptide synthesis. He continued his work in peptide and protein chemistry as a postdoctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University and has gone on to pursue his research interests in the application of chemical approaches to the solution of biological problems. His primary research focus areas are the dynamics of protein folding and the prediction of protein structures. He has previously served as an adjunct faculty member at Eastern Connecticut State University and WPI.

Steven Van Dessel, assistant research professor in civil and environmental engineering, works in the areas of sustainable building design and intelligent building systems. One focus of his current research, which has been funded by the National Science Foundation, is the development adaptive building envelopes that can respond to climatic conditions and user preferences to conserve energy and optimize comfort. He is also interested in the development of lightweight building and construction systems that minimize material consumption, optimize energy use, and reduce costs. He holds a PhD in materials science and engineering and architecture from the University of Florida.