Deidra Hodges, an associate professor with expertise in photovoltaics and solar energy, has been named chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU's College of Engineering and Computing. She is the first Black professor to serve as a department chair in the college.
“In her relatively short time with us, Dr. Hodges has already become a well-respected educator and role model for our diverse FIU community, which is vital to our goal of growing minority representation in the field,” said John L. Volakis, dean of the college. “With her background in academia and industry, her research initiatives and her collaboration with government laboratories and agencies, she will continue to lead the department in its development of technologies that will have a significant impact across the globe.”
Hodges joined FIU in the Fall of 2021. She has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of South Florida and a master’s in electrical engineering from New York’s Columbia University. She received bachelor’s degrees in both physics and electrical engineering in a dual-degree program between Dillard University in New Orleans and Columbia University.
Her graduate training led her to industry, where she programmed the avionics flight software for NASA while working for IBM. She also worked for the aerospace/defense firm Martin Marietta, now Lockheed Martin. Hodges served as an officer in the United States Navy Reserve for five years and taught at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Goergia, and the University of Texas at El Paso. At FIU, Hodges continues research in the area of photovoltaics ― technologies to convert light to electricity ― as well as solar and other renewable energies. She also serves as a diversity mentor professor in the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity.
Hodges grew up in New Orleans with a chemistry professor father and high school biology teacher mother and five siblings. Learn a bit more about her below.
How did a childhood dream lead to your career today?
I had a childhood desire to have solar panels on my roof one day. As a teenager, I just thought that was so cool. Eventually, I got my solar panels. But it was that interest that led me to the energy research I am doing now. And I love to show students that we can make an impact, that we can develop solutions to our problems. It is very rewarding.
You’ve worked in industry, served in the United States Naval Reserve, led numerous research projects and taught. How have all of these experiences prepared you for your roles at FIU?
Each position has added to my knowledge or skills in some way. The military allowed me to travel the country for training, improve my mediation skills and develop discipline. Industry gave me the ability to collaborate with others and work on exciting projects like avionics flight software. Academics taught me how to obtain research grants, develop labs and engage students. These are tools and skills I bring to FIU.
As the chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at FIU, what are your priorities?
I am very new to the job and I love the vision of our becoming a preeminent state and Top 50 program. I’d like to see growth in research and research funding, and I’d like us to attract more Ph.D. and post-doc students. As an African American female in engineering, I was always the statistic. In my younger years, I would respond to discrimination emotionally. As I matured, I realized that to change our institutions, workplaces and neighborhoods, we need more diversity, a more welcoming environment and a pipeline to bring in more underrepresented minorities. These are initiatives of importance to me as the department chair and a diversity mentor professor in the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity.
What was your reaction when you were named the first Black chair of a department in the College of Engineering and Computing?
I literally cried. I knew it was a historical moment. I’m honored to have received the vote of the faculty and now I will do everything I can to best lead the department.
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t in the lab or teaching?
I like to plant and garden. Addressing food insecurities is another interest of mine and I enjoy figuring out ways to grow food in extreme environments. When I lived in Georgia, I could throw seeds down and grow anything easily. But in El Paso, there was very little water, so I began working on a hydroponic shipping container with solar power. These containers can go anywhere. I’m already planning my mini shipping container garden for my backyard here. As a newcomer, I am loving Miami, and hope to take advantage of all there is to do here.