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5 FIU professors receive NSF CAREER Awards to conduct innovative research, promote diversity in engineering

5 FIU professors receive NSF CAREER Awards to conduct innovative research, promote diversity in engineering

March 3, 2022 at 1:30pm

Five junior faculty members of FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing are the latest recipients of the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, bringing the college’s total number of awardees to 24.  

“These awards are a clear reflection of our faculty excellence in research,” said John L. Volakis, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing. “From increasing diversity in STEM to saving lives and enhancing communication models, we are extremely proud of the contributions made by these researchers and what lies ahead given the important projects each is leading.”     

This year’s NSF CAREER awardees are Trina Fletcher, Bruk BerhaneDarryl Dickerson, Ahmed  Ibrahim and Amal  Elawady.

Fletcher is an assistant professor of engineering and computing education. She will receive a five-year, nearly $550,000 grant to develop an asset-based longitudinal and intersectional database focused on Black women’s experiences within informal and formal engineering education. The project will be in collaboration with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and will highlight the non-monolithic state of Black women in engineering, contribute towards advancing the literature and strategically allow for improved broadening participation within STEM education and the STEM workforce.  Fletcher joined the School of Universal Computing, Construction and Engineering Education (SUCCEED) in 2018.

Trina Fletcher

Berhane — assistant professor of engineering education and  the School of Universal Computing, Construction, and Engineering Education (SUCCEED) undergraduate program director — will receive nearly $600,000 spread out over five years. Recognizing that both community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a history of graduating large numbers of Black engineers, Berhane’s project will produce a shared vision across community colleges and HBCUs to increase the representation of Black undergraduates in engineering. The study's goal is to ultimately produce an organizational framework that enables HBCUs and other institutions to better collaborate with community colleges on efforts to broaden participation in engineering. 

“I am thrilled to be a part of this class of NSF CAREER awardees at FIU. It is also especially gratifying to be one of three African American professors in the college who received the honor this year,” Berhane said. 

Bruk Berhane

Heart attacks cause permanent loss of heart muscle and can lead to heart failure. Current treatments cannot regenerate damaged heart muscle. Dickerson, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will receive a five-year, nearly $700,000 grant to reveal how 3D biophysical signals at multiple length scales can be used to engineer personalized heart tissues. These engineered tissues, generated inDickerson’s Inclusive Complex Tissue Regeneration Lab (In-CTRL), could replace damaged heart muscle in adults following a heart attack, which causes permanent loss of heart muscle that can lead to heart failure. 

The award will also support a complementary education program that will use this heart research context to promote equity in engineering education through mechanical engineering curriculum innovation. Additionally, this work will broaden access to engineering for those who have been historically excluded through scalable K-12 programs in partnership with the Center for Diversity and Student Success in Engineering and Computing. 

Reflecting on this year’s awards, Dickerson said: “I’m extremely honored and proud to be among this year’s NSF CAREER Awardees at FIU with this phenomenal group of scholars. This recognition from the NSF is a strong testament to the dedication of FIU’s faculty community to lead through our groundbreaking research and our pioneering educational approaches.  I look forward to seeing the tremendous impact of this collective work in the years to come.” 

Darryl Dickerson

Ibrahim, an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will receive a five-year, $500,000 grant to enable low-delay wireless networks. These networks support lifesaving connected vehicles and augmented reality applications, which are essential in remote health care.

Ibrahim’s project will develop short-delay “gray-box” machine learning models and low-complexity optimized networks, thanks to the unique modeling of wireless networks over curved surfaces. This project will also help to attract high school students, including students with special needs such as autism, to STEM programs. 

“It is an honor to be part of this group of amazing researchers and educators with such noble goals as the focus of their research,” Ibrahim said. “Improving lives through innovation is our shared commitment.” 

Ahmed Ibrahim

Elawady — an assistant professor and wind engineering researcher in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering — will receive more than $700,000 earmarked to advance research into the impact of downburst winds, caused by thunderstorms, on building structures worldwide. 

Elawady’s research will focus on increasing the understanding of thunderstorm downburst wind characteristics and the consequent downburst-induced loading on buildings by bridging the global gap between meteorology and wind engineering paradigms. Her research will take place at FIU’s Wall of Wind (WOW) Experimental Facility (EF). In collaboration with the FIU’s Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL),the CAREER grant will enable international exchange internships for graduate students to empower the next generation of researchers to pursue their next step in academia or in the industry.  

Amal  Elawady