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BYU engineering professors receive national accolades

Faculty members across the BYU engineering departments are raking in prestigious awards.

Professor Doug Tree
Chemical engineering professor Doug Tree received an NSF Career Award to study polymer crystallization.
Photo by Heber Stanton

BYU engineering faculty members continue to shine on the national stage as multiple professors received distinguished awards this year.

Chemical engineering professor Doug Tree received the 2024 National Science Foundation CAREER award, a prestigious grant to support junior faculty who exhibit exemplary scholarship and teaching. The award includes over $500,000 in funds to support Tree’s research for the next five years.

Tree specializes in polymer crystallization, the process by which some plastics form as molecules are arranged into crystalline structures. How the process works exactly is still a scientific mystery, so Tree’s proposal for the CAREER award is to use computer simulations to solve the puzzle.

“If we do explain why, it would change the textbooks,” Tree said.

The road to success wasn’t easy for Tree. He remembers encountering many difficulties when he first began researching the topic with PhD student Pierre Kawak.

“If I think about this project, in some ways it's been born out of multiple failures,” Tree said. “Our first two years [were] just a lot of failing.”

Through persistence, creativity, and—Tree feels—some inspiration from heaven, the researchers eventually made headway on the problem and acquired this significant NSF award to continue their work.

“It's okay if it doesn't work out perfect the first time,” Tree advises his fellow engineers. “You can do hard things.”

Professor Steve Shumway
Technology and engineering studies professor Steve Shumway accepts the ITEEA Award of Distinction.
Photo by Katie de la Paz

Technology and engineering studies professor Steve Shumway has also learned by trial and error how to find success. This year, Shumway received the Teacher Educator of the Year Award from the Utah Association for Career and Technology Education (ACTE) as well as the Award of Distinction from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA).

“I have been a student of pedagogy my whole life,” Shumway said. “If it works, then I keep doing it. If it doesn't work, I try something else.”

After graduating from BYU, Shumway taught high school electronics classes before getting a PhD and returning to his alma mater to train future teachers of technology and engineering. He believes in putting students first.

“The students are the reason we're here at BYU,” Shumway said. “Even though there's always been a focus on research and a focus on citizenship, the focus on teaching upon which this university was founded continues to be strong.”

Civil engineering professor Kyle Rollins has also demonstrated excellence in teaching as well as research, earning him the 2024 H. Bolton Seed Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

“It’s one of the great honors of my life,” Rollins said.

Kyle Rollins 2.jpg
Civil engineering professor Kyle Rollins accepts the ASCE H. Bolton Seed Medal.
Photo by Geo-Institute of ASCE

The award is one of the top three in the discipline and is named for the father of geotechnical earthquake engineering. Seed was also Rollins’s PhD advisor at UC Berkeley. Rollins paid tribute to his former mentor in a special ASCE lecture on February 25, 2024.

“He was my hero,” Rollins said. “He had an amazing ability to get to the critical point in any problem and figure out how to solve it.”

Rollins is carrying on Seed’s legacy as he mentors students and studies methods to prevent soil liquefaction during earthquakes. He and other BYU engineering professors bring prestige to the university and inspiration to the academic community.

Check out these other BYU engineering faculty members who earned accolades this year:

  • Electrical and computer engineering professor Randal Beard earned the 2024 Intelligent Systems Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). 
  • Electrical and computer engineering professor Joshua Mangelson earned the 2024 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). 
  • Manufacturing engineering professor Quentin Allen earned an Engineering Research Initiation grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).