Dr. Chinedum Okwudire Earns 2022 ISD Distinguished Faculty Award

Former ISD Associate Chair earns 2022 ISD Distinguished Faculty Award

Integrative Systems + Design has named Dr. Chinedum Okwudire with the 2022 ISD Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Dr. Okwudire, ISD Associate Professor and ISD Associate Chair from 2019-2021, helped launch a new master’s track in Additive Manufacturing and a Smart Manufacturing Systems course.

“I most enjoy the collegiality and warmth of the ISD family,” Dr. Okwudire said. “I enjoy the opportunity to support numerous other activities at ISD. Integrative is extremely important to the future, and in particular to Additive Manufacturing. It’s important for students to see how these areas come together and are co-curricular. Capstone projects really bring students front and center with more hands-on activities within their program.”

Early Love of How Things Work

His love for mechanical engineering sparked around age 8 when his uncle, a mechanic, visited his family’s home in Jos, Nigeria, to tinker under the hood of his family’s vehicle.

“It blew my mind,” Dr. Chinedum Okwudire said. “Watching the camshaft go up and down, open and close, was fascinating. I learned how intricately the timing worked.”

Watching his uncle fix his family’s car outside his home ignited his interest in learning how mechanical processes work inside his home. He would take things apart, sometimes breaking them on purpose. At times, he would fix them. Sometimes he would not know how to put them back together.

His mom was not always too pleased.

“She would often tease me,” Dr. Okwudire said. “But my dad always encouraged me to be curious and take things apart to figure them out. I loved mechanical engineering from a young age.”

He did so well in high school that another uncle, who was a mechanical engineer, encouraged him to pursue a medical school degree instead, so that he could make more money. 

“I was so confident in pursuing mechanical engineering,” he said. “My parents were so supportive and encouraged me to pursue my dream of mechanical engineering.”

Off to Turkey

Dr. Okwudire earned a scholarship to attend Middle East Technical University, Ankara, where he graduated with a BSc in 2003. The experience offered him the opportunity to live in a different country, soak up the culture, and learn a third language (in addition to English and Igbo, his native language).

“I enjoyed learning the Turkish language,” he said. “Turkish is the most systematic language I have ever encountered. Its grammar rules work consistently, just like math, making it very easy for my mind to grasp it.” 

Dr. Okwudire graduated as a top undergraduate engineering student. He later earned a MASc in Mechanical Engineering in 2005 and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2009 from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. 

Get Smart

Today, Dr. Okwudire directs U-M’s Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab. The lab’s research largely focuses on exploiting advances in mechatronics, including mechanical design, sensing, actuation, computing, and controls, to improve the quality, productivity, cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability of manufacturing machines and processes. A key application focus is additive manufacturing (3D printing). Other application areas include nanopositioning, roll-to-roll manufacturing, machining, and precision metrology. 

He is also engaged with the community. He led the creation of the 3D Printing Club at Michigan, aimed at providing students with experiential learning in manufacturing. He is the faculty advisor for the Michigan Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and co-initiated the NextProf Pathfinder Workshop, which seeks to prepare underrepresented minority graduate students for careers in academia.  

Path Setter

From 2019-21, Dr. Okwudire served as ISD Associate Chair.

At ISD, he worked closely with a team of U-M faculty to create the Smart Additive Manufacturing master’s pathway to explore and connect topics more deeply. The team included Dan Cooper, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Kazu Saitou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Kevin Field, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences; and Kira Barton, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Robotics Institute.

“Our industry partners demand employees who really understand the theory and practice of Smart Additive Manufacturing,” Dr. Okwudire said. “Additive Manufacturing is a multidisciplinary area requiring the integration of several disciplines. ISD’s courses are truly integrative and  the hallmark of what ISD and this new pathway are all about. ISD’s master’s programs are also focused on preparing students for industry. ISD is the ideal place.” 

With guidance from industry partners, the master’s pathway began in January 2021 with 20 students from nine different departments and three colleges, and interest has skyrocketed since there is high demand for the hands-on aspect of online education. The leading course provides foundational knowledge and builds skills in smart additive manufacturing, and introduces various aspects of experiential learning. It focuses on five key AM modules: AM Workflow, Processes and Applications, Lifecycle Economic and Environmental Costing for AM, Design and Verification for AM, Materials Fundamentals for AM, and Monitoring, Diagnostics and Control for AM, all with emphasis on practice. Hands-on labs and industrial case studies are used to reinforce the course material.

The five modules are tightly coordinated, cohesive, and taught by a different instructor, allowing instructors to share their specific expertise. The instructors are affiliated with four different academic units.

After a year in place, Dr. Okwudire believes the new master’s pathway is a success for both faculty and students.

“We are experiencing the joy of teamwork among faculty,” he said. “Working together with faculty from different departments to create this pathway with the right theme, right integration, and right coordination has worked out very well.”

ISD students love the new pathway.

“It is a very modern field that involves many different disciplines throughout engineering and can significantly impact almost every industry,” said Bret Nichols, an Aerospace MSE student who took the Smart Additive Manufacturing foundation course. “I know, without a doubt, I will use what I learned about the possibilities and limitations of the technology combined with its economical practicality.”

Nationally Recognized

Manufacturing is at a pivotal moment right now. It is advancing rapidly, there is more demand for goods, and the economic wellbeing of the nation, including the national defense, depends on it. 

Prompted by this important time and the need for more skilled talent, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) created a new educational committee. This committee is called Strengthening the Talent for National Defense: Infusing Advanced Manufacturing in Engineering Education, and they have asked Dr. Okwudire to be a member. 

“We seek to facilitate the infusion of advanced manufacturing in engineering curricula across the nation,” Dr. Okwudire said, “to help strengthen the talent pool for the defense industrial base of the nation. It comes at an opportune time for our department, as our design and manufacturing faculty have been working together to modernize our curricula.”

In addition to the ISD award, Dr. Okwudire has been recognized for his outstanding research, teaching, and service, including the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation; the Young Investigator Award from the International Symposium on Flexible Automation; the Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers; the Ralph Teetor Educational Award from SAE International; the MLK Spirit Award from the North Campus Deans; the Department Achievement Award from ME; and the Russell Severance Springer Visiting Professorship from UC Berkeley.