College of Technology Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Student Excellence Award Winners Named

In celebration of their exceptional accomplishments, six individuals in the University of Houston College of Technology were recognized with awards for research, teaching, and service. Held on April 30, the awards program is made possible through the generosity of Baker Hughes and Fluor Corporation. Dean William Fitzgibbon presented the awards and acknowledged Baker Hughes and Fluor Corporation for their support and partnership. Dean Fitzgibbon also expressed pride and appreciation for faculty, staff, and students who are dedicated to the advancement of innovative research, excellent teaching, and steadfast commitment to service.  

Honored for his demonstration of scholarly contributions, Dr. Lu Gao received the Research Excellence Award. Within recent years, his work has secured more than $370,000 in research grants to support research in transportation infrastructure management, complex systems, pavement engineering, and information management. Dr. Gao is a principal investigator (PI) in a two-year Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project, "A Study of Short Term Skid Improvements by Light Texturing with a Milling Machine." He recently completed another TxDOT funded project, "Managing the Transportation System," as a Co-PI. Dr. Gao has published in 17 highly reputed refereed publications and conference proceedings.

Dr. Wajiha Shireen was recognized with the Award for Exceptional Teaching, tenure-track. As the Coordinator of the Electrical Power Engineering Technology Program, Dr. Shireen plays a pivotal role by introducing new courses, securing funding for labs from the National Science Foundation and industry, and determining the focus of the undergraduate curriculum. She developed new undergraduate and graduate courses, serving as a well-regarded mentor and supporter of students as displayed by high-scoring teaching evaluations. Technical and pedagogical articles in top ranking national journals and conference proceedings complement her record of outstanding teaching.

As recipient of the Award for Service Excellence, Professor Raresh Pascali has played a major role in the near triple-digit enrollment growth of the Mechanical Engineering Technology Program. With his personal funds, Professor Pascali started and vested the first endowments for the program and for the University of Houston - Northwest Campus; created a dedicated engineering technology lab at the Northwest Campus, and developed and taught numerous courses. His implementation of a two-semester capstone course sequence has attracted significant involvement and funding from industry leaders such as FMC Technologies.

Pascali serves as a faculty advisor for the student chapters of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, Marine Technology Society, Society of Automotive Engineers, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, and Tau Alpha Pi. As a member of the steering committee for the Shell Eco-Marathon America, he remains actively involved and contributes many hours of his personal time as an inspiring mentor to the students. 

His service extends even farther as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Engineering Technology Program at Lone Star College-CyFair Campus, and the Energy and Manufacturing Technology Advisory Committee of the Lone Star College System.

Dr. Medhat El Nahas was honored with the Teaching Excellence Award as Instructional Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Technology. Since joining the department in 2007, Dr. El Nahas has demonstrated unparalleled enthusiasm and energy in his teaching a wide range of mechanical engineering topics at all levels. With a teaching philosophy that is a way of life, Dr. El Nahas establishes strong relationships with students in many ways. He learns and memorizes their names, maintains an open door policy to be available to them as much as possible, meets with all students individually to discuss their course progress and performance or concerns about the course materials, and even attends their association social activities.

His motivation is marked by excellent to exemplary evaluations and reviews that consistently mention his thoughtfulness. His active engagement with the development of the mechanical engineering technology curriculum has led to dedicated service on several graduate degree defense committees.

Dr. El Nahas introduces novel approaches for design project courses and serves an academic advisor who has inspired several senior design teams. His collaboration with the oil and gas industry, especially the subsea engineering professionals, paves the way to sponsorships for senior design projects, funding for the mechanical engineering technology program, and internships.

The Department of Engineering Technology Laboratory Manager, Gordon Taylor, was recognized for his excellence as a staff member. Committed to insuring compliance with safety and environmental standards, Taylor responsibly and efficiently maintains the utilities, electrical equipment, and instrumentation - vital to students who are required to use the engineering technology labs. He assumes personal responsibility for managing the academic network component of the information technology server and conducts comprehensive training on Blackboard® and student assessment processes for all teaching and research assistants. Gordon’s knowledge of the College of Technology courses, syllabi, instructional materials, engineering software and laboratory experimentation procedures extends well beyond expectations and the call of duty.

Anderson Okonkwo’s passion, creativity, and dedication to research were recognized with the   Graduate Student Excellence award. He served as a graduate research assistant in the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department, earning two Master of Science degrees in the College of Technology this spring - the M.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology and the M.S. in Technology Project Management.

Okonkwo demonstrated an outstanding commitment to his work, which includes a uniquely impressive portfolio of 16 publications in addition to a patent. Anderson plans to continue his studies at the University of Houston by pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Science.