When he joined University of Michigan Engineering in 2013, Prof. Pingsha Dong was no stranger to Ann Arbor.
He was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the University of Michigan over three decades earlier before departing to begin his industrial research career. During that time, his research activities were focused on developing integrative approaches to engineering problem solving by focusing on computational modeling methods ranging from structural design to material selection to manufacturability, gaining experience that would shape the trajectory of his work for the rest of his career.
His U-M Fellowship served as a springboard to positions in the private sector, where he spent the next 20 years working at organizations such as the Edison Welding Institute and the Battelle Memorial Institute. There, he continued the themes he’d first explored during his initial time at U-M, examining different aspects of mechanics in the context of advanced manufacturing.
After two decades away from academics, Dr. Dong opted for a return to higher education. He first joined the University of New Orleans, serving as the Northrop Grumman Endowed Chair of the UNO College of Engineering for five years, before returning to the U-M College of Engineering’s Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) department, eventually achieving a joint appointment with Mechanical Engineering and Integrative Systems + Design (ISD) and is now Program Director for Global Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering (GAME) program in ISD. This past February, he was appointed the Robert F. Beck Collegiate Professor of Engineering.
The professorship honors Robert F. Beck, a former faculty member in the U-M College of Engineering’s Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department. Professor Beck served as the Richard B. Couch Professor of NAME, was a pioneer in the field of marine hydrodynamics, and is now an Emeritus Professor.
“It is a great honor to be chosen as a collegiate professor, particularly under the name of Professor Robert F. Beck, who is an internationally well-recognized educator and researcher in Naval Engineering,” Prof. Dong said.
An Early Interest in Math and Science
Prof. Dong was born and raised in China during the Cultural Revolution, which meant most of his education came in the form of Communist-approved materials. Despite this lack of STEM information, Prof. Dong found time to secretly read math and science textbooks at night by the light of kerosene lamps. These materials, which Prof. Dong disguised as Mao’s Little Red Book to evade detection, had originally been given to him by his father who had instilled a dedication to education in him from a young age.
This commitment to self-education at all costs eventually provided Prof. Dong with the opportunity to leave China and pursue his education.
Efforts Reaching Around the Globe
The impact of Prof. Dong’s commitment to education will not be limited to just the Ann Arbor campus — students near and far will benefit. Educating and interacting with this broad range of students is one of the most enjoyable aspects of work for Prof. Dong.
“Advising GAME students with very diverse backgrounds can be very intellectually stimulating and rewarding experiences,” he said. “Our GAME program in some way is rather unique in this regard, since we have about half of the students who are distance-learning students who have been successful in their early stage of their career and are looking for new challenges.”
Since Professor Dong joined U-M in 2013 as a professor in the NAME department, he has helped found numerous new undergraduate and graduate courses while working with major industrial sponsors, including the Big 3 automotive companies and various government agencies.