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New UTPB College of Engineering dean eager to take on challenge - Odessa American: Education

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New UTPB College of Engineering dean eager to take on challenge

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Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2018 1:45 am

The opportunity — and challenge — of taking on the new Dean of the College of Engineering post at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin was part of what drew George Nnanna back to the Permian Basin.

Previously, Nnanna was head of the Mechanical and Civil Engineering departments at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind.

The campus had 14,000 to 15,000 students and he had been there for 16 years, Nnanna said.

He is no stranger to West Texas, however, having earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He earned a master’s degree and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Nnanna grew up in Aba, Nigeria, and has been in the United States since 1988. Always good in math and science, the combination of the two subjects led him to engineering.

He said he decided to attend school in the United States because the quality of an American degree is highly valued. Nnanna said his cousin was pursuing a degree in public policy at Texas Tech, so his parents thought it would be a good idea if they were at the same school.

At Purdue University Northwest, Nnanna said he was able to grow the mechanical and civil engineering departments and the research portfolio.

Nnanna also led the Purdue Water Institute for about 11 years. During that time, it grew to include a water research laboratory that manages several multi-million dollar, externally funded projects. 

“Here at UTPB, I see an opportunity to grow the college with the addition of the chemical and electrical engineering. I think there is potential for growth with the students, not just in number but in quality,” Nnanna said.

“The second part that attracted me is the opportunity for applied research in energy and in water resource management. Energy and water have been identified by the National Academy of Engineers as two of the 14 grand challenges of the 21st century. People fight for water, and here in the Permian Basin you see that water is being used for hydraulic fracking, so maintaining the quality of the water is important. But even more important it may be used to develop advanced technologies that can be used to clean up the waste water so that it can be reused. If we’re able to achieve that the ability to reuse the waste water, cleaned waste water, that will not place a lot of burden on the freshwater aquifer. … Also with the new president here, President (Sandra) Woodley, she has progressive views and in my opinion transformative ideas to move the university to a higher level of academic excellence,” Nnanna said. “I want to be part of that.”

Woodley said in an email that Nnanna brings a wealth of experience to UTPB, having led a successful engineering program at Purdue University Northwest.

Nnanna noted that he received a $500,000 STAR award from the UT System to set up an energy water nexus research laboratory.

“That will help us to attract talent from various places to conduct energy and water research,” he said.

Currently, there are 450 students in the mechanical and petroleum engineering programs, he said. He would like to see that figure double.

His second goal would be to develop experiential learning, so undergraduate students would be able to participate in industrial projects that will enhance their academic experience.

He added that he would like to develop a master’s degree program so practicing engineers and others would be able to earn a master’s degree from UTPB.

Another factor that should increase UTPB’s profile is the $55 million engineering building being constructed near the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center at 1310 N. Farm to Market Road 1788.

“It will house petroleum, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering, so not only will teaching space be available (but) there will also be labs, as well as research spaces and also a student success center where supplemental instruction can be provided to help students that are at risk,” Nnanna said.

The building’s third floor will feature a maker space and an innovative incubator where people with research ideas can develop them, Nnanna said.

He also wants to develop more internships with industry.

“As an engineer, you have to make sure that the students understand how the theory leads to engineering design, so by integrating senior design projects and by connecting the students with industry through internships I think that will help will build that gap between theory and practice,” Nnanna said.  

Nnanna and his wife, Georgina, a director of pharmacy at a hospital in Indiana, have four children.

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