Excellence in Engineering Education Endowment Established in Honor of Dunn-Rankin
April 6, 2023 - Derek Dunn-Rankin, affectionately known as DDR by students, recently retired after 35 years on the UCI faculty. Since the late '80s, the (now emeritus) professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering has conducted research and taught undergraduate and graduate courses on fluid dynamics, combustion, thermodynamics and laser diagnostics. He has mentored 35 doctoral students, 70 master’s students and dozens more senior scholar and visiting researchers. He developed and taught the mechanical engineering design/senior project course for 20 years, and he has served as the department chair twice.
Over these years, Dunn-Rankin has touched the lives of countless students. He was voted the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor of the Year three times by the Engineering Student Council and has been awarded the Society of Automotive Engineers Faculty Advisor Award, Pi Tau Sigma Honorary Professor Award, UCI SURF Program Mentor of the Year and UCI School of Engineering Instructor of the Year.
“DDR has a way of leaving a lasting imprint through his Socratic approach to leading a person to self-reflect and improve,” said Amit Dhadwal ’93, a financial services expert and partner at management consulting firm Bain & Company and a UCI Engineering Hall of Fame inductee (2015). “He probably does not realize the enormous impact this can have on his students, but every little bit from leaning in to actually listening, to engaging and radiating the ‘I believe in you’ made all the difference for me. His compassion, intellect, selflessness and high standards made him the special mentor he was to me, and others.”
“DDR was just a great professor,” said Rabi Narula ’92, a partner at intellectual property law firm Knobbe Martens. “You could tell that he was very well prepared for lectures. He was always willing to answer questions and discuss after class. But, he also taught with a smile and friendliness that made learning, even difficult subjects, enjoyable.”
Although retired from regular faculty activities, Dunn-Rankin continues to support his priorities of education and diversity. He serves as director of the school's Master of Engineering program and has since its inception. He has long been a strong advocate for inclusiveness in engineering education. For more than 20 years, he has worked to increase the success of underrepresented groups in the sciences and engineering as faculty director of the California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP), including 11 years as co-director of the UC systemwide Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. He also has served as director of the NSF Bridge to the Doctorate program and more recently as director of the Mexico Graduate Research Education Program (MGREP).
“DDR started championing diversity and inclusion before it was in vogue,” said Yun “Julianna” Wei ‘07 (master’s degree). “He was always thinking about the economic and educational outlook, how the engineering profession and knowledge field was evolving. He worked for more gender diversity because he knew that if we wanted to see more women in engineering, it’s best to see examples.”
This past fall, many of the school of engineering’s alumni, with fond memories of their professor launched a ZotFunder to help raise money for an Excellence in Engineering Education Endowment in his honor. Narula announced the ZotFunder campaign this past October at the ‘92, ‘93 class reunion. “There are lots of outside the classroom educational opportunities – field trips, participation in research projects, etc. that require money,” said Narula. “I would like UCI engineering students who maybe lack the funds and resources to be able to have those opportunities.”
When Dunn-Rankin was approached by the engineering director of development about initiating an endowment in his name, he felt it wouldn’t be right to ask others for money unless he was willing to demonstrate a financial commitment to the initiative. So, he and his wife, Katherine Martin, contributed $50,000 to the effort. They chose not to establish a scholarship, which would only go to a few students, but to reward all students with improved educational experiences.
The Derek Dunn-Rankin & Katherine Martin Excellence in Engineering Education Endowment will support the school’s priority in encouraging excellence and emphasizing inclusiveness in engineering education. Examples include providing travel funds for students and/or research staff to present at engineering conferences; support for the publication of academic papers where the first author is a student; and supplemental support for special materials to provide hands-on learning within the school. The endowment funds will be awarded under the direction of a disbursement committee comprised of professors of teaching in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
“We hope the money can be used by those faculty most committed to providing an exceptional educational experience to our most important student body – the undergraduates,” said Dunn-Rankin. “I felt that the most committed faculty were the professors of teaching, and they were also the most overlooked, so giving them control of the endowment earnings seemed a good way to ensure effective use of the funds for educational benefit and broad participation.”
To learn more about the Excellence in Engineering Education Endowment (EEEE), visit https://zotfunder.give.uci.edu/project/33377.
– Lori Brandt