Fall 2023 Department Head Message

November 14, 2023
A headshot of Department Head Hua Zhao from the waist up, smiling, and wearing a business casual top.


The multilayer colors of fall were absolutely astonishing this year prior to the first snow of the season. This reminded me to dig out my winter clothes. I am very pleased to present you with this edition of the BBE newsletter. I want to thank Rachel Kraft Mattson for a great job putting this issue together!

I was very pleased to meet and connect with many of our alums/ advisory council members, donors, students, faculty (current and retired), and staff at the BBE Showcase on October 26. For the Advisory Council Board of Directors, Pat Gruber from Gevo was reelected for the second term, and Joseph Schaller from Liberty Paper and Nathan Korlesky from Tetra Pak were elected as new members. We’d like to extend our congratulations to them all! I would like to thank two exiting members: Carroll Korb from Forest Products Distributors and Thomas Murphy from Liberty Paper, for their active engagements and wonderful contributions to the Board. A beautiful speech was delivered at the Scholarship Luncheon by our alumna Leigh Henning, who graduated in 2012 from our Environmental and Ecological Engineering and is currently a water and wastewater project manager at Stantec. My sincere gratitude goes to all scholarship donors and industry sponsors. Your generosity and commitment is key for the department to attract and retain the best students in our undergraduate and graduate programs.

A quick update on several initiatives in the department. Following the faculty retreat in May focusing on developing a SWOT analysis, the department conducted two work sessions this fall. Both faculty and staff worked together to brainstorm and develop a strategic plan with the assistance of an external consultant. Top priorities identified include increasing student enrollment and positive experiences, sustaining faculty and staff productivity and satisfaction, and maintaining relevant, impactful programs. We will further develop these priorities into more tangible goals and action items. 

The department has also been working with a communications firm to sharpen the recruitment messages for our two undergraduate programs (BBE and SSM), and we are in the process of developing visual recruitment and website materials with another company. You might have heard our brief messages on Minnesota Public Radio related to our undergraduate programs. I hope you keep spreading good words about our department and programs!

In this edition of BioBriEf, we feature Professor Shri Ramaswamy's decarbonization projects funded by the DOE, along with Assistant Professor Zhenong Jin’s research on Mapping Cashew Trees in Benin, and a student written profile on Professor Tim Smith. We share SSM student Annabella Lau’s essay on her international experience with Moving the Cities, a Ph.D. student Vinni Thekkudan Novi’s  rapid disease detection test, and another Ph.D. student Koushik Sampath's success at the University-wide Three Minute Thesis competition. We also celebrate Susan Seltz and Dana Lehigh for their staff awards. 

For the alumni section, we feature James Barsness from Donaldson Company, who is the first BBE undergraduate from the program.

With the holiday season coming up, I wish you and your family safe and happy holidays! A quick reminder for events coming up:

  • Save the date for our Spring Scholarship Gala at the Bell Museum on April 26 (more details to come soon).
  • We are still seeking industry sponsors for our BBE and SSM capstone projects. If you have real-word small projects in your company, please let our students help with some engineering design or provide some sustainability assessments.