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Saturday, August 13, 2022

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New Engineering Dean to Focus on Student Success

Morteza "Monte" Mehrabadi wants to continue the college's tradition of excellence while enhancing opportunities for students and faculty from diverse backgrounds.
By Michael Price
 

Morteza “Monte” Mehrabadi was born to be an engineer: “I’ve always liked to make gadgets and things,” he said.

As a child, he built a film projector made from a roll of film and a homemade gear system. He made his own roller skates and tinkered with the ball bearings.

Morteza "Monte" Mehrabadi  in front of a bookshelf
Morteza "Monte" Mehrabadi

Now, the San Diego State professor and former chair of mechanical engineering has stepped into the role of dean of the university’s College of Engineering. In January, Mehrabadi took over for David Hayhurst as head of the college.

His most important job, Mehrabadi says, will be upholding the college’s reputation as a high-quality engineering school. He said he was extremely proud of the productivity and success of the college’s students.

What makes SDSU’s college special, though, is its emphasis on educating students who might otherwise struggle with the discipline’s demanding mathematics requirements.

“Our students are creative and innovative, but many of them arrive with educational deficits,” he said. “With the help and preparation they get here, they turn out to be very successful engineers. We are very proud of their accomplishments.”

Mehrabadi also cited the college’s success in training veterans to become engineers under the Troops to Engineers program. The four-year-old program was initially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), but it has since become independently funded by local industry.

Diverse to the core

One of the core strengths of the SDSU College of Engineering, he said, is the diversity of its faculty and students. Although the school has done well in recent years to boost the number of minority and female students and faculty, Mehrabadi said there is room for improvement.

To that end, one of the first personnel decisions he was involved in was the promotion of Theresa Garcia to interim assistant dean for student affairs. Garcia previously served as director of SDSU’s MESA Engineering Program, which focuses on graduating students from underserved communities. 

“With her being assistant dean, we’re going to be paying even more attention to minority students and diverse students,” Mehrabadi said. Natasha Forbes-Celise will take over as director of MEP.

As part of that strategy, he said he wants to implement programs to catch struggling students before they drop out of engineering and then mentor them on the basic skills they need to master the curriculum.

“We need to be more vigilant in identifying the students who are in need very early on and helping them with their math and science courses so that they continue on,” he said.

On the faculty side, Mehrabadi noted that the college will be making several hires in the coming months and will be making an effort to increase the representation of minority and female engineering professors.

Moving up the ranks

Mehrabadi also wants engineering faculty to apply for more—and receive more—funding from competitive granting agencies like NSF and the National Institutes of Health. Not only would that increase the stature of the individual researchers and help them make a larger impact on the world, it would also boost both the College of Engineering and San Diego State in academic rankings.

“One of the main goals of SDSU’s Strategic Plan is to transform the university into a leading public research university, and I think that engineering can play a much bigger role than it has been playing,” he said. “One of the major indices used for ranking purposes is research expenditures by faculty. If we can increase that by, say, twofold, it will go a long way toward improving our ranking among our peers.”

In order to become more competitive for funding, Mehrabadi would like to see engineering researchers engage more in cross-disciplinary collaborations with other scientists at SDSU.

“Most of the exciting discoveries in engineering and science are being made at the boundaries of different disciplines, or at the overlap between fields, such as with nanotech and biotech,” he said. “I specifically would like to have more collaboration with the College of Sciences, because they are very strong in areas that would complement the expertise of the engineering faculty.”

As he settles into his new role, Mehrabadi said that while he is excited to lead the College of Engineering into the future, he will miss teaching. For the past several years, he has taught a machine element design course to engineering undergraduates.

“I really, thoroughly enjoyed teaching, and from what I hear from the students, they also enjoyed it,” he said.