A Simple Philosophy

Phillip Dunston believes that everyone has a unique gift to offer the world. Having found his own, he is working to help others find theirs.

Phillip Dunston has a simple philosophy: Find your individual strengths and what you are distinctively good at and apply it to the work you do. This philosophy has led Dunston to Purdue where he serves as an associate professor of both CEM and civil engineering conducting cutting-edge research and mentoring young people.

Dunston has clearly picked a profession that plays to his own strengths. In 2002 he received the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award. “This was a great honor,” says Duntson. “It means that the people in your field judge the contribution you are interested in making is worthy of being supported.”

This research involves virtual reality applications for construction planning and management. “People on the construction site have a challenging job,” explains Dunston. “They are taking two-dimensional plans and trying to visualize mentally how it should look in reality. Some people are very good at that, and then there is a segment of the workforce that is not. I want to help this mix of people work together effectively.”

To explain his research, Dunston uses an example from the “Terminator” movies. “When the bad guy arrives looking for clothing and goes around measuring people to see who is the right size, the digital information that appears on screen that helps it function in a real environment is a good example of my work in augmented reality,” he says.

Translated to the construction site, engineers who are operating in reality would be able to make more effective decisions in that environment through information that is computer generated.

“One of my main goals,” explains Dunston, “is to deliver digital content, but also be able to register it in terms of being accurately placed in three-dimensional space.”

The ways in which this information would be displayed is flexible, although, with the right technologies, Dunston hopes this would mean functioning with their hands free. However, he is quick to point out that he is neither a computer scientist nor a computer engineer, instead working from the perspective of a potential user.

“I am more concerned with the human factors involved,” says Dunston. “Assuming all the technological hurdles are overcome, how can this technology be harnessed or how can consistency be designed in such a way to augment human performance?”

This means Dunston is kept busy as his work demands interdisciplinary input from computer science and engineering, as well as the psychological sciences. However, he still makes time to help with the Science Bound Program, which reaches out to middle-school students in Indiana who are interested in the STEM areas: science, technology, engineering, and math. Through this program, students are encouraged to complete high school with the promise of a full Purdue scholarship upon graduation.

Dunston serves as a STEM mentor, helping young students understand what a career in engineering is all about. “I try to encourage young people to think about what their true leanings are and not just pursue something simply because it looks interesting or is lucrative,” he says. “I want them to understand that if they pursue a career in engineering they will be making a contribution to people’s quality of life.”

Beyond the young people Dunston helps throughout Indiana, he has a few young ones at home he gives plenty of attention to. He and his wife, Candace, an electrical engineer, have five children: Jonathan (13), Kayla (12), Azaria (6), and Nadra (5), Keziah (newborn).

When asked if he hopes his children might follow in his and his wife’s engineering footsteps he laughs and replies, “Harking back to my philosophy, I want them to find what they’re uniquely gifted for.”

- Kristen Senior