Cohen Center

A Humanist Engineers Journey of Transformation and Innovation

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Title: Do You Know the Value of Your Liberal Arts Education? A Humanist Engineer’s Journey of Transformation and Innovation

Location: Madison Union 256

Are you taking full advantage of your liberal arts education?  The power of higher education is to create agency for transformation and innovation.  A liberal arts education, like the one at James Madison University, plays a key role in creating opportunities for transformation that most students do not fully capitalize.   How we recognize, create, transform, and distribute knowledge becomes vital to our agency as students during our education and as professionals in the workforce.  The world we live in requires us to problem solve within complex technical, structural, and cultural systems. Knowledge management is critical to our ability to solve the complex problems that await us, and higher education plays a key role in how we learn to navigate and integrate knowledge to lead to desirable outcomes and solutions.  Come to learn about and be inspired by a humanist engineer’s journey of transformation as an innovative educator, scholar, and engineer.   Her journey is one that has continuously mingled the most powerful value of a liberal arts education - bringing together broad and deep knowledge bases leading to innovation, transformation, and agency.  The work of Dr. Olga Pierrakos has brought together knowledge from engineering, humanities, technology, biology, social science, arts, human centered design, business, social justice, education, policy, etc. Her journey tells the story of transformation and innovation achieved through interdisciplinary collaborations, inclusive excellence, broad and deep knowledge explorations, continuous education and improvement, and a love for the integrating the humanities with engineering and technological literacy. Through her work and her academic journey, she will share lessons learned to create agency for transformation and innovation.

pierrakosOlga Pierrakos is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering, James Madison University.  Currently, she is Program Director, Division of Undergraduate Education & Human Resources Directorate, National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.

Before coming to JMU, Dr. Pierrakos spent eleven years at Virginia Tech learning about engineering across various departments.  She received a BS degree in Engineering Science and Mechanics, a MS in Engineering Mechanics, taught in Mechanical Engineering, received the first PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the joint Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University program, and also pursued a postdoc in engineering education research at Virginia Tech sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering.  At JMU, as a founding faculty member of the new engineering program, she innovated in the new engineering curriculum, mentored over 150 students on research and design projects, and worked on many cross-disciplinary efforts will colleagues across campus.  In 2009, Dr. Pierrakos received a prestigious half-million dollar National Science Foundation CAREER award to study complex problem solving in the context of engineering education. In 2013, upon being nominated by JMU, she was honored with a State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award in the category of “Rising Star.” In 2015, Dr. Pierrakos received the inaugural faculty award as “Innovator of the Year” voted by engineering students in the department.  She is currently on leave from JMU serving as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) within the Division of Undergraduate Education in Arlington, Virginia.  In this role, she manages a $100 million dollar portfolio of NSF investments in the areas of STEM education innovations, STEM education research, STEM diversity and broadening participation efforts, and STEM institutional transformation efforts. 

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