David W. Pershing
Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs
University of Utah
For his outstanding accomplishments in combustion research, teaching, and university administration, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to David W. Pershing.
On his Purdue experienceI lived in Wiley Hall for four years and was involved in student government in the dorm. I was president of the dorm's cinema club-Cleopatra was a bit hit, I remember. I was also president of Omega Chi Epsilon, the chemical engineering honorary society. I mainly remember how hard the workload was as a student. There was really no time to do much else besides study, although I'd try to go to the variety shows in the Hall of Music on football weekends. The whole world stopped for football weekends. Professor Bob Greenkorn was my mentor during my last two years, and he arranged summer jobs for me and my roommate at Exxon in Houston. I worked on fracturing problems in the oil field, and when I came back to campus, I did a research project on the same subject. Dave Kessler, my academic adviser, also had a profound influence on my life. I have very fond memories of him helping me figure out what courses to take.
On his turn toward environmental-pollution researchAs a chemical engineering student, I imagined that I would complete my PhD with Professor Greenkorn at Purdue and go to work for a large oil company, doing research. The problem was the Vietnam War. I had a low draft number, and in the end, I spent three years as an officer in the Public Health Service. In those days the Public Health Service was providing line officers for what became the Environmental Protection Agency. I served in Cincinnati and North Carolina, working in air pollution research. That's how I got into air. Then I completed my doctorate at the University of Arizona, and I have worked on environmental pollution ever since.
On Personal and Professional involvementsOn the personal side, I've been married to my wife, Dr. Lynn Kennard Pershing, for 21 years. She's a professor of dermatology at the University of Utah. We have a 14-year-old daughter, Nicole, and it's likely that she'll end up in a technical career. On the professional side, the most recent development is that I direct C-SAFE [the $20 million Center for Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions], which is part of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative from the Department of Energy.
On teaching and researchOne of the things I love about being a professor-and I still teach, by the way-is working with young students and helping them grow in their lives. It's very important, as an administrator, to emphasize the importance of undergraduate teaching and research. People think of those as competing forces, but they go integrally together. At the University of Utah, we try to involve our undergraduate students in research, just as I was involved in research as an undergraduate at Purdue. Research makes the subject come alive, and students get a sense of why they're learning the formulas in the classroom. Research also keeps the faculty more current.
On challenges facing engineering educationThe real issue that I see today is, How does higher education, and state universities particularly, stay competitive in what is becoming a tough marketplace? In the old days, Purdue was so clearly the engineering school for Indiana. Today, for-profit universities are springing up, and distance education is taking place. The thing that is not obvious is that a 10 percent decrease in enrollment at Utah, or at Purdue, would have a huge financial impact. Also, when I became dean of engineering at the University of Utah 11 years ago, there were no tenure-track women engineering professors in the entire state. That's clearly unreasonable. I worked hard to get women into real tenure-track positions, and succeeded. That to me was a very big issue-it's important to the state and to the future. And we're going to need to give students more biological training. They need to understand more of the life sciences, because so many will end up doing things that relate in some way to biology.
- 1998- :
- Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs, University of Utah.
- Director, C-SAFE.
- Acting Vice President of Academic Affairs.
- Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, University of Utah.
- Governor's Medal for Science and Technology (State of Utah).
- 1995- :
- Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Fuels Engineering.
- Distinguished Research Award, University of Utah.
- Dean, College of Engineering.
- Professor, Chemical Engineering and Fuels Engineering.
- National Science Foundation Young Presidential Investigator Award.
- Associate Dean of the Graduate School.
- Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering and Fuels Engineering.
- Distinguished Teaching Award, University of Utah.
- Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Utah.
- Visiting Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Arizona.
- National Science Foundation Fellow.
BSChE '70, Purdue; PhD '76, University of Arizona.