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The School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment welcomes its new faculty members

Hasan Ozer - Associate Professor

Hasan Ozer’s idea of an enjoyable endeavor is implementing computational mechanics tools for structural performance modeling of civil infrastructure.

Another gratifying pursuit: developing sustainability assessment models to understand the interaction of the environment and transportation infrastructure.

Ozer expects to demonstrate to his students not only the value of such work but the exhilaration of doing it.

“One thing I tell my students at the beginning of each class is to have fun and enjoy the semester with me,” Ozer says.

The fun includes games and activities designed to reveal fascinating challenges facing today’s transportation engineers.   

For instance, infrastructure must be adapted to ensure traffic safety and efficiency as more autonomous and connected vehicles show up on our roads. There’s also a pressing demand to make that infrastructure more sustainable while keeping costs from escalating.

Ozer wants students to realize how meeting such needs “is vital for nations’ economies and people’s lives.” And he hopes they will come to share his passion for using advanced computational methods, modeling and mathematics to provide solutions to complex engineering problems.

He apparently succeeded at motivating students he has taught since 2012 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Center for Transportation. Those students repeatedly ranked him among the most excellent UIUC teachers.

Ozer’s Arizona State University students will benefit from his experiences as chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers Highway Pavement Committee and as a member of the Transportation and Development Institute since 2014, as well as a national standing committee member with in the Transportation Research Board since 2018. 

He also co-chaired the ASCE and TDI’s International Airfield and Pavement Conference in 2017 and again this summer.

Ozer says he was drawn to ASU because it is “one of the few schools that has made a commitment to the integration of sustainability into the engineering discipline,” and by the added attraction of having “a great transportation and pavement engineering program.”

Tianfang Xu - Assistant Professor

Be prepared to do math.

That’s the message Tianfang Xu has for students who will take her courses in fluid mechanics, groundwater hydrology and a new graduate course she plans to develop on groundwater modeling.

“I believe that an in-depth understanding of the mathematics underlying physical principles is an essential preparation for students’ future careers as engineers,” Xu says. “But relax, because the math will be illustrated in an engineering context with real-world applications.”

It was a love of math and problem solving that Xu says first sparked her interest in an engineering career. A research project she joined as an undergraduate set her on a course to her area of expertise within the field.

The project used numerical models to investigate a groundwater contaminant plume from a gas station storage tank leakage.

“I was intrigued by how numerical modeling translates a complicated problem into linear systems that a computer can solve,” Xu says.

Groundwater flow and solute transport, processes by which contaminants are transported in aquifers, became her primary research interest. Her specialties entail complexity requiring the use of multiscale physics, chemistry, scientific computing, probabilistic theory and new tools from data science that can digest large amount of hydrologic data.

Xu sees those research tools as critical to improve water systems management around the world, respond to climate change and ensure the sustainability of our built environment’s infrastructure.

She is especially looking forward to joining fellow ASU engineers and scientists on research teams “that foster collaboration and innovation.”

Through those interdisciplinary endeavors, Xu wants to contribute solutions to help society meet the intertwined challenges posed by growing needs for dependable sources of food, water and energy.

When Xu needs a break from the job, she will be engaging in her pastimes of reading science fiction, hiking and kayaking. 

Ruijie Zeng - Assistant Professor

Ruijie Zeng’s hometown played a big role in his choice of a career.

The site of the city of Dujiangyan, China, was originally developed more than 2,200 years ago as an irrigation and flood control district. The project is still in use today, providing water and flood protection for millions of people.

That “engineering miracle,” as Zeng describes it, motivated him to study water resource systems.

Today his research aims at “understanding how climate variability and human decisions interact with each other to shape the hydrologic regimes.”

That goal is critical today because of the increasing impacts of human activities on climate, the natural environment and the hydrologic cycle.

“As human interferences on natural systems become more frequent and more dominant,” Zeng says, “we cannot understand the hydrologic cycle without the anthropogenic (societal) components.”

Zeng sees Arizona State University as an ideal place to do his work because the Phoenix area is in a desert region that “provides a perfect real-world site to study the interactions of climatic, environmental and social drivers for water resources management,” he says.

He was also drawn to ASU by its “great emphasis on breaking the barriers” between academic disciplines and promoting sustainability, which open opportunities for productive research collaborations.

“Water resources management is interdisciplinary,” Zeng says, “so you can talk to and learn from experts from different fields.”  

Zeng says students should come to his classes “motivated to learn cool stuff” — for instance, the application of the advanced tools in use today in his field, especially machine learning, statistics and scientific computing.

Outside of teaching and research, Zeng pursues interests that include swimming, playing the flute and driving on canyon roads.

Mackenzie Boyer - Lecturer

Water conservation expert Mackenzie Boyer has moved from one of the wettest states in the U.S. to one of the driest. 

For her doctorate work at the University of Florida, Boyer’s research focused on residential irrigation and water conservation. Now, in Arizona, she’s exploring water and energy conservation in food and beverage manufacturing. 

Boyer originally came to Arizona State University in 2018 as a faculty associate and postdoctoral scholar. Her decision to stay was an easy one.

“ASU was a natural choice because I was already local,” Boyer says. “I have really been drawn to the commitment to inclusivity of the university and the diversity of my students.”

Now, in her new position as a lecturer of environmental engineering, Boyer teaches CEE 361: Introduction to Environmental Engineering and CEE 181: Technological, Social and Sustainable Systems to a range of engineering majors. 

“In addition to relevant technical concepts, I also tie in why environmental engineering should matter to all of them, regardless of what their future career holds,” Boyer says. “I also bring in historical events, like the Flint Water Crisis of 2014 or the London Cholera Outbreak of 1854, to demonstrate the social and ethical implications of environmental engineering decisions.”

Between her master’s and doctoral studies, Boyer also worked for engineering consulting companies doing water and wastewater treatment design. She likes to tie in her industry experience to course topics to demonstrate the applications of her lessons.

Barry Kutz - Lecturer

After 30 years in the construction industry, Barry Kutz decided to retire and give back “to the program that prepared me for a successful career.”

Now he’ll be teaching in ASU’s construction program, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in the 1980s. During his career, Kutz led a preconstruction team for McCarthy Building Companies, a major national construction company, during a long period of record-breaking growth.

In the courses he will teach or co-teach, Kutz says students will find a learning environment “where there is room for a lot of practical questions” about an industry he finds to be “exciting” and that “keeps me interested and active.”

His interests and activities away from work revolve around spending quality time with his family.

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