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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 04 

College of Engineering inducts new academy members, honors outstanding young alumni

April 30, 2015

The Academy of Engineering Excellence inductees.
From left: Sharnnia Artis, Alok Das, Charles Bakis, Vinod Chachra, Kristen Casto, Richard Benson, Steve Mollenkopf, Ben Hatfield, Paul Huffman, William Wells, and Lori Wager.

Virginia Tech's College of Engineering recently inducted eight new members into its Academy of Engineering Excellence. 

The academy is an elite group of engineering alumni who have achieved multiple honors throughout their careers. As of this spring, the academy consists of only 135 people out of Virginia Tech's more than 63,000 living engineering alumni.

The Academy of Engineering Excellence was founded in 1999 by F. William Stephenson, former dean of the College of Engineering, and by the college's advisory board. This year marked the 16th anniversary of the first induction. In 2009, the college produced a book on the first 90 inductees, called "In the Land Grant Tradition: Reaching the Pinnacles."

This academy and the college's published book "represents another way the College of Engineering has selected to showcase our loyal ambassadors. These alumni all represent people who have lived their lives representing the spirit of Ut Prosim, Virginia Tech's motto, meaning 'That I may serve'," said Richard C. Benson, dean of the College of Engineering and the holder of the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering.

The college also recently presented its 2015 Outstanding Young Alumni Achievement Award and its Outstanding Graduate Student for 2015.

2015 Academy of Engineering Excellence inductees

  • Charles Bakis, from State College, Pennsylvania, with a master's and a doctorate in engineering mechanics, Classes of 1984 and 1988. Bakis is a distinguished professor in engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University. He is the current president of the American Society for Composites. He is a fellow of this technical organization, as well as the American Society for Composites, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the International Institute for Fiber Reinforced Polymers in Construction. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Composites for Construction.
  • Vinod Chachra, from Blacksburg, Virginia, with a master's and a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering, Classes of 1968 and 1972; Chachra was the founder, president, and chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Library System (VTLS) that became the university's first spin-off company in 1985, and the first tenant of its Corporate Research Park. In May of 2014 he sold the company, but remains active in Blacksburg, chairing the Broadband Committee to bring higher speed Internet to the town. He is also an inaugural member of Virginia Tech's Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.
  • Alok Das, from Lebanon, Ohio, with a doctorate in aerospace engineering, Class of 1982. Das is the senior scientist for design innovation at the Wright Paterson Air Force Base's Air Force Research Laboratory. He leads this laboratory's rapid reaction team that uses innovation and collaboration, providing near term solutions to the warfighter's highest priority, urgent needs. Also, he was a pioneer in the development of smart space structures, created the Air Force's premier space superiority flight test experiment called the XSS-11 program, and created and patented "smart Velcro", offering a novel way for high-precision, low-cost docking of spacecraft for routine on-orbit servicing.
  • Bennett K. Hatfield, from Charleston, West Virginia, with a bachelor's degree in mining engineering, Class of 1979; Hatfield is the president and chief executive officer of Patriot Coal Corporate. He reorganized this company out of a chapter 11 bankruptcy, saving over 4,000 jobs and preserving medical care for some 10,000 retirees. Previously, he held many leadership roles with Massey Energy and Arch Coal, and he grew the International Coal Group from a small shell of bankrupt companies into a corporation valued at $3.4 billion.
  • Paul Huffman, Jr., from Roanoke, Virginia, with a bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering, Class of 1978. Huffman is president of Dominion Metallurgical, an engineering and supply company specializing in the turnkey supply of cast, forged, and machined metal components to industry. He serves as the education chair of the American Foundry Society, and he is an adjunct professor with the materials science engineering department at Virginia Tech. He is also a managing partner for Safety Step, LLC, a supplier of metal step tools and industrial hose accessory components.
  • Steve Mollenkopf, from San Diego, California, with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, Class of 1992 Mollenkopf is the chief executive officer of Qualcomm, a company he joined only 20 years ago. Among his key accomplishments, he holds seven patents in areas such as power estimation and measurement, multi-standard transmitters, and wireless communication transceiver technology. He spearheaded the company's largest acquisition, the $3.1 billion purchase of chipmaker Atheros, known for its WiFi chips. He is chair of the Global Semiconductor Alliance and a member of the Semiconductor Industry Association's Board of Directors.
  • Lori Wagner, from Richmond, Virginia, with a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering, Classes of 1982 and 1987. Wagner is the special projects leader for advanced fibers and composites for Honeywell International. She holds more than 20 patents and in her first management position she supervised the process development group for the well-known and registered Spectra fiber and Spectra Shield materials. As her positions evolved she became a recognized expert in her field of supplying high-performance fibers that make bulletproof fabrics. The various forms of body armor have saved hundreds of lives in recent wars, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and are also now being used by first responders and civilian defense team members. 
  • William K. Wells, from Bluffton, South Carolina, with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Class of 1966. Wells joined United Aircraft Corp., now United Technologies, after graduation, but soon decided to enroll in law school. After passing the bar, he became a licensed lawyer in New York. The law firm of Pennie and Edmonds offered him his first position, and he left this group to join Baxter International's legal team in Chicago. In 1977 he returned to private practice in Washington, D.C. and eventually became a partner at Reed, Smith, Shaw, and McClay. He specialized in technology related matters, developing licenses and enforcing patent rights for clients. In 1989 he became a partner at Kenyon and Kenyon, retiring in 2006. He now manages his own business, Cormorant Technologies, LLC.

2015 Outstanding Young Alumni Achievement Award winner

  • Sharnnia Artis, from Oakland, California, with bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, Classes of 2002, 2005, and 2007, industrial and systems engineering. Artis is the education and outreach director at the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science. In the past three years she has managed and coordinated more than $1 million in externally funded projects and grants, and has served as the co-principal investigator on two National Science Foundation funded awards on underrepresented student sin engineering.

2015 Outstanding Graduate Student 

  • Kristen Casto, from Falls Church, Virginia, with a doctoral degree in industrial and systems engineering, Class of 2009. This award was based on her dissertation with her adviser, John G. Casali of Virginia Tech. Casto is the Army Audiology and Hearing Conservation Consultant to the Surgeon General of the United States. A lieutenant colonel, she received the 2009 National Outstanding Dissertation in Human Factors' Stanley Roscoe Award, and the 2013 Joseph Haley Writing Award from the Aerospace Medical Association -- Army Aviation Medical Association for the best helicopter related aerospace publication in any media.

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