James Madison University
PHOTO: Olga Pierrakos

Olga Pierrakos, Ph. D.

Associate Professor

  • Office: ENGE 3227
  • Phone: 540-568-8917
  • Email: pierraox@jmu.edu
  • Mailing Address:
    MSC 4113
    801 Carrier Drive
    Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807

Dr. Olga Pierrakos is involved with cardiovascular fluid mechanics research, engineering education research, as well as curriculum and course development for the Department of Engineering at JMU.  


  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2006
  • M.S. in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2002
  • B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2000 (Minor in Mathematics)


A founding faculty of the JMU Engineering Department, Dr. Olga Pierrakos has been at JMU since January 2008. Dr. Pierrakos has taught 10 of the 17 required courses in the program and led the initial development of the six-course engineering design sequence, the initial development of the sophomore human-powered vehicle design project (with Dr. Pappas), and innovated in the thermal-fluid course sequence. Dr. Pierrakos also led the assessment efforts during the first five years of the program which received exemplar remarks from JMU and ABET (accreditation board).  More recently, she led the department’s ABET efforts as co-Chair. In 2013, Dr. Pierrakos was awarded the prestigious State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award in the category of “Rising Star” - http://www.schev.edu/AdminFaculty/OFA/2013/13Pierrakos.asp

To support her efforts as innovative educator-scholar, she has received several National Science Foundation (NSF) awards as principal investigator totaling over $1.5 million, one being the prestigious NSF CAREER Award focused on investigating complex problem-solving in engineering practice and translating real-world problem-solving into the classroom. The latter involves a novel pedagogical model to expose students to different types of problems leading to different modes of cognition. Given that women and minorities are underrepresented in engineering, Dr. Pierrakos also conducts research to understand students’ motivations to persist or to leave engineering. She believes that increasing the production of engineers and diversifying the engineering workforce will strengthen our nation’s global technological competitiveness.

Dr. Pierrakos also conducts research in biomedical engineering and sustainable energy systems. She works with students to characterize the flow past prosthetic heart valves and to design technologies for reducing drag on vehicles. With support from the NSF, she led an effort to establish a state-of-the-art experimental flow diagnostics facility to enable such research. This facility has already impacted hundreds of undergraduate and K-12 students.

Dr. Pierrakos has published over 90 peer-refereed publications and presented over 25 invited talks. All her projects involve students and nearly all her publications include students as co-authors. This is testament to empowering her students as the future scientists and engineers.
Prior to coming to JMU, Dr. Pierrakos was a National Academy of Engineering CASEE Postdoctoral Engineering Education Research Fellow at Virginia Tech.

Dr. Pierrakos’s Ph.D. work pertained to vortex dynamics and turbulence characteristics in left ventricular flows and past prosthetic heart valves. At Virginia Tech, Dr. Pierrakos served as faculty advisor to over thirty mechanical engineering seniors involved in mechanical and biomedical engineering design projects and taught several mechanical engineering fluid mechanics, design, and technical communication courses. Dr. Pierrakos has also been actively involved with promoting engineering in K-12 settings.

Faith and family are her cornerstones. She is married to John Karabelas, who teaches in the JMU College of Business, and they have three beautiful sons – Thanasi, Vasili, and Leonidas.

Research Interests

  • Engineering education research: research on recruitment and retention, outcomes-based assessment, epistemologies of engineering learning and interdisciplinary education, design education methodologies, K-12 engineering education.
  • Cardiovascular fluid mechanics:  left-ventricular flows, heart failure, vascular implants, computational modeling of cardiovascular flows.