Sepehr Arbabi and Mohsin Jamali are the two newest STARs in the University of Texas of the Permian Basin’s engineering universe.
UTPB received a $300,000 grant from the UT System to hire Arbabi. He will be associate professor and coordinator of chemical engineering. The university was awarded a $500,000 grant to hire Jamali.
The STARs grant for Arbabi and Jamali will be used to set up a research laboratory, purchase equipment and hire undergraduate assistants to support their respective research.
Arbabi earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Jamali received his doctorate from the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Both said they were drawn to UTPB by the chance to launch new programs in chemical and electrical engineering.
Arbabi, who is from Tehran, Iran, came to the United States after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering. He planned to return to Iran, but things changed with the Islamic revolution in 1979. His family also came to the United States.
He started working for a famous professor at USC, but the professor decided to move to Penn State.
Arbabi said the professor asked him to go with him, but he couldn’t. He took a summer course in chemical engineering, got very interested in it and switched majors.
“So basically it just happened,” Arbabi said.
Mechanical and chemical engineering are two of the oldest forms of engineering.
“They take the same kind of core courses up to a point, but chemical engineering uses advanced and applied chemistry to design processes to design material. It has applicability in almost everything from oil and gas to food to pharmaceutical companies,” so it’s a broad field, Arbabi said.
He did a year of post-doctoral work and five years at Stanford University in the petroleum engineering department doing research and working with students.
Arbabi said he always wanted to go into academia, so the chance to come to UTPB came along at the right time. He added most of his students are working, so they tend to want real examples of how what they’re learning will apply to their jobs.
“I tend to, in my lectures, to start with examples and show the applied side of everything that we discuss. We still have to do some theory, but I try to really bring the examples in it so they can ask for ideas,” Arbabi said.
The new program and the new building being constructed at the Midland campus near the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center were a couple of the reasons Arbabi was drawn to UPTB.
The focus of the chemical engineering program, he said, will be petrochemical engineering because that’s what the region requires.
“We’ll bring the petroleum side to chemical engineering, but chemical engineering is very broad, as I mentioned,” Arbabi said.
He added that examples of new branches are designer drugs and diagnostics.
Currently, Arbabi is teaching one course in heat transfer in mechanical engineering, but is finalizing the curriculum for chemical engineering. Then most likely, he said he will be teaching two chemical engineering courses in the fall.
His goals are to spread the word out about the program, attract students and link to local industry through internships and other projects and setting up teaching labs, where experiments will be conducted on what the students have learned. Arbabi also wants to set up a research lab.
Jamali, who is from India, had spent much of his career in Michigan and Ohio, but was fascinated with the University of California and UT Systems and wanted to be part of either one.
The oldest of nine children, he said he taught all his brothers and sisters and his neighbors, so he said it was natural for him to want to go into the profession.
He has received summer faculty research fellowships from the Summer Faculty Research Fellowships from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Jamali also was a Fulbright-Tampere University of Technology Scholar in 2014-15, giving him a chance to conduct research at the Tampere International Center for Signal Processing at Tampere University of Technology in Finland.
He has been involved with curriculum and accreditation processes and will work toward ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation for the electrical engineering program.
Jamali also wants to create a chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers at UTPB and bring its distinguished lecture series to Odessa. He was one of the distinguished lecturers with the group and went all over the world giving presentations.
Currently, he is busy with courses and setting up laboratories and he is teaching a course in electric circuits. Jamali said he plans to teach three courses in the fall and three in the spring.
He said he is impressed with the students he has encountered so far.
“They take notes. They ask good questions,” he said.