Full Throttle: Faculty Poised to Lead Aerospace Efforts with Student Focus
Last Updated on November 24, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published November 24, 2020
By Christina Rodriguez
A cadre of young, talented faculty members at The University of Texas at El Paso is poised to lead the next generation of aerospace research and education efforts at the University’s renowned Aerospace Center, also known as cSETR, through their wide spectrum of expertise, innovative research and ardent focus on student success.
UTEP’s cSETR takes pride in distinguishing itself from other major national aerospace programs through its staunch commitment to student success. UTEP faculty members Amelia Greig, Ph.D.; Angel Flores-Abad, Ph.D.; Joel Quintana, Ph.D.; and Md Mahamudur Rahman, Ph.D., are dedicated to stewarding the program’s student-centered mission into the future by leveraging their high-level expertise to serve UTEP students through mentoring and training.
“What is special about these four individuals is that they are not only promising young faculty members, but they have an intense focus on student success,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate vice president for aerospace center and founding director of cSETR. “They deeply believe in the UTEP mission and have a razor-sharp focus on serving our students. They are so good with mentoring and training the students that it sets them apart from others. Each of them brings different expertise that will be critical to really grow our aerospace program.”
Amelia Greig, Ph.D.
Greig is an expert in small satellite technology. She is from a small farming community on the northwest coast of Tasmania, Australia, and became interested in space exploration from routinely watching Star Trek with her father at a young age. After spending a year as a postdoctoral researcher in plasma physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), she worked as an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo for three years before arriving at UTEP in fall 2019 to join cSETR and the mechanical engineering department.
At cSETR, Greig works on small satellite development, expanding existing aerospace propulsion programs to develop new and innovative technologies for lunar exploration and advancing the electric propulsion program. Greig treats her students as junior engineers working with her to find solutions to problems using the same established tools and frameworks used by industry partners such as NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. This enables students to develop real-world skills they need to be productive team members when they join the workforce.
Greig will work hard to provide exciting and relevant projects for UTEP students to develop skills they need to be competitive in the job market and receive job offers before or quickly after graduation.
“In the short one year I have been at UTEP, I have seen quite a few students mature from being pure engineering students with a student mindset into fully fledged engineers ready to go solve all the world’s problems,” Greig said. “My previous positions were at Caltech and Cal Poly, both great schools that have great students, but those students tend to come into their higher education with confidence, many from families that already have strong engineering or aerospace influences. The difference in the growth of the students at UTEP when compared to Cal Poly and Caltech is quite amazing to experience and be a part of.”
Angel Flores-Abad, Ph.D.
At cSETR, Flores-Abad leads robotics and guidance and control research. His work supports the long-term strategy to position cSETR as a reference center in aerospace autonomous systems. He has been working on the development of small satellites with robotic capabilities and implementing guidance and navigation algorithms for unmanned aerial systems while mentoring and incorporating UTEP undergraduate and graduate students in his research.
Flores-Abad earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University; a master’s degree in mechatronics engineering from the National Center for Research and Technological Development in Cuernavaca, Mexico; and a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering from the Orizaba Institute of Technology in Orizaba, Mexico. He is a reviewer for more than a dozen journals in the fields of aerospace engineering and robotics. In 2019, the Aerospace Science and Technology Journal recognized him as an outstanding reviewer.
Flores-Abad has two patents and numerous publications. He is a member of the AIAA Space Automation and Robotics Technical Committee, the Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineering (IEEE), and the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE). Soon cSETR will be sending its first robot to orbit, and Flores-Abad is critical in building components that allow robotic manipulations.
“I strive to provide students with the inspiration to pursue their dreams of developing technology that will go beyond the Earth’s confines,” Flores-Abad said. “Having the inspiration will produce in them a natural need to know more about their research topic, which will provide them with the fundamentals and technical skills required to be highly competitive.”
Joel Quintana, Ph.D.
Quintana is a proud UTEP alumnus who earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University. Before joining the professoriate, he served as a postdoctoral fellow with cSETR and in 2018 joined the aerospace center as an assistant research professor. Quintana is a first-generation Mexican-American citizen, second in his extended family to earn a college degree and first and only to have earned an advanced degree.
The homegrown engineering professor leads the small satellite program at cSETR along with Greig and Flores-Abad. He designs and builds small satellite missions and technologies as experiments and technology development demonstrations. His work includes fiber optics with a concentration in integration of electronics and control systems for various projects at the center.
Through his work with cSETR, Quintana hopes to boost UTEP as the foremost University for aerospace research and leader in student upward mobility.
“Joel shows the quality of a UTEP education in our program. He is an amazing and talented faculty member,” Choudhuri said. “He brings such an applied hands-on expertise to our students that is needed to succeed on a job. Joel is a critical person at cSETR who can build anything in electrical systems.”
Md Mahamudur Rahman, Ph.D.
Enhancing the ability to efficiently produce, consume and conserve valuable energy and water resources motivates Rahman’s research, as well as an interest in mentoring and training underrepresented students to become the next engineers and leaders in academia.
Rahman earned his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from UTEP in 2011. He worked with cSETR as a graduate student researcher and credits that high-quality, real-world, hands-on research environment with helping him develop an investigative mindset, a toolbox of soft and hard skills and a passion for scientific research.
Before joining UTEP as a faculty member, Rahman earned a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University and held a postdoctoral associate appointment in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Creating opportunities for students and producing a diverse high-quality engineering workforce inspired Rahman to return to UTEP as a faculty member. He is currently working on multiple NASA and National Science Foundation projects involving hypersonics, lunar resource development and lunar exploration technologies.
“I find myself inspired with the desire to assist UTEP students in understanding, implementing and discovering new concepts,” Rahman said. “My primary goals as a mentor are ensuring fundamental understanding, fostering the acquisition of critical and independent thinking, and advancing the collaborative work skills of UTEP students. I help them paint a vision of their future career, and find ways to energize, motivate and boost their confidence. I discuss individual development plans with students, help them identify their strengths, skill gaps, and ways to improve their gaps.”
The innovative work of these young, talented faculty members along with their focus on student success position cSETR to continue leading the way in aerospace research and expanding educational opportunities for students to excel in their careers as researchers and engineers.
“These faculty members are a reflection of what cSETR and UTEP are all about,” Choudhuri said. “We are an R1 university but with a singular focus on student success. I am very proud of these individuals. I have spent the last 20 years bringing cSETR to where it is today, but I know they will take it to another level. These faculty members are bright, hard-working, and their hearts are student success. Our program is in very good hands.”