2020 Withrow Scholars

April 27, 2020

Kodur, Purcell and Tang named 2020 Distinguished Withrow Scholars

Three faculty members at Michigan State University have received top scholar recognitions awarded by the College of Engineering.

University Distinguished Professor Venkatesh Kodur named 2020 Withrow Senior Scholar.
University Distinguished Professor Venkatesh Kodur named 2020 Withrow Senior Scholar.

Honored with 2020 Withrow Distinguished Scholar Awards are:

Senior Scholar: Venkatesh Kodur, University Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Junior Scholar: Erin Purcell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and

• Junior Scholar: Jiliang Tang, assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

The awards are presented each spring in recognition of demonstrated excellence in scholarship. They are part of the Withrow Endowed Awards established through a gift from MSU alumni Jack Withrow (BS, MECH EGR, ’54; MBA ’71) and Dottie Withrow (BA, speech therapy and elementary education, ’55) to recognize members of the college who have demonstrated excellence in instructional and scholarly activities and rendered distinguished service to the university and the student body. The awards are usually presented at the annual Engineering Awards luncheon, which was cancelled this spring when MSU began working remotely due to the novel coronavirus.

2020 Withrow Distinguished Scholar - Senior Award 
(Nominees have been in service to the university for more than five years and hold the rank of professor.

University Distinguished Professor Venkatesh Kodur is an internationally recognized scholar in the areas of structural and fire engineering. Kodur has established a leading-edge research program that has reached a high level of sustained professional distinction in research and scholarly activities; teaching; and public and institutional service.

Kodur’s unique research in the fire safety field is credited with developing the fundamental understanding on the behavior of materials and structural systems under extreme fire conditions. The techniques and methodologies resulting from his research is instrumental for minimizing the destructive impact of fire in built infrastructure, which continues to cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars of damages each year in the U.S. and beyond.

Neeraj Buch, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said Kodur has made significant contributions to strategic research, technology development, and international collaborations. “He has established a unique and high-profile research program in structural fire engineering at MSU.”

His contributions to the field of structural fire safety and high performing construction materials are seminal and numerous and his research accomplishments have had major impacts, Buch said. Kodur’s industrial background at the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC) provides him with a unique perspective and his research is highly innovative in combining theoretical-depth with highly relevant practical applications.

As founding director of the Center for Structural Fire Engineering and Diagnostics (SAFE-D Center) funded through an MSU Strategic Partnership Grant, Kodur, together with his research team is applying advanced experimental techniques and complex numerical modeling approaches for developing rational calculation methodologies and innovative practical solutions for fire design of various structural systems. For undertaking fire experiments, he designed and developed unique structural and material fire testing facilities (valued at more than $2 million) at MSU, the first of its kind at a U.S. university.

“This unique and sophisticated fire testing facilities, dedicated in 2007, is highly cost-effective in operations, since the furnace can be used to test a variety of structural configurations,” Buch continued.

Kodur has advised 26 PhD and 24 master’s students, and mentored 25 visiting scholars and 19 undergraduate research students. Working with students and collaborators, Kodur has published research results in 450+ technical papers – including 350+ peer-reviewed papers in prestigious international journals and conferences. He is one of the highly cited authors in Civil Engineering and Fire Protection Engineering disciplines, with more than 11,300 citations and an h-index of 60. He is a sought-after speaker and media source. He has delivered 61 keynote and plenary presentations in structural and fire resistance areas. His research has been widely covered by the main-stream media. He has given more than 65 media interviews, helping to promote fire research facilities and the expertise available at MSU, Buch added.

Kodur has served on numerous panels in the U.S. and internationally. He has organized and chaired major conferences, including the international workshop "PROTECT 2015" at MSU.

Among his many honors, he is a Fellow of five institutes and academies, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Structural Engineering Institute (SEI), American Concrete Institute (ACI), Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE), and Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE). His other major awards include a NATO award for collaborative research, an American Institute of Steel Construction Faculty Fellowship Award, and an NRC (Government of Canada) Outstanding Achievement Award. He has received some of the highest honors bestowed on engineers in Canada and India.

Most notably, he was part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Society of Civil Engineers high profile "Experts Team" that investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings as a result of Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Kodur’s new book, Structural Fire Engineering, has just been published by McGraw Hill and provides hands-on techniques engineers can apply to prevent or mitigate the adverse effects of fire in built infrastructure. Kodur notes there are very few books available on this specialized topic so his new publication is helping to fill in knowledge gaps in the fire safety field.

2020 Withrow Distinguished Scholar - Junior Awards
(Nominees have been in service to the university as instructors, assistant professors, or associate professors for not more than seven years.) 

Erin Purcell is a 2020 Withrow Junior Scholars at MSU.
Erin Purcell named a 2020 Withrow Junior Scholar at MSU.

• Erin Purcell has distinguished herself in both research and instructional scholarship. She was MSU’s first faculty member in biomedical engineering (BME) when the new department began in 2015. She advised MSU’s first PhD in biomedical engineering – Joseph Salatino, who graduated from MSU in 2019.

Her research focuses on developing new approaches to characterize, modulate, and regenerate

neuronal responses at the interface of electrodes implanted in the brain. Purcell and her research team have significantly advanced scholarly knowledge on this important topic, both through her research and her instructional contributions.

Since 2015, she has been awarded three NIH grants totaling $2.5 million and was awarded an NSF CAREER Award in February 2020.

Early in her faculty appointment while building a lab in the newly established BME department, she created and taught a 400-level Introduction to Neural Engineering course. The new class provided opportunities to recruit top student researchers, who became MSU’s first BME PhD students.

Purcell will have obtained about $3.2 million in total federal funding within her first five years as a faculty member. Her lab has published nine papers in prestigious journals, including Nature Biomedical Engineering, with her as the senior author and her graduate students as lead authors.

She has traveled internationally to present her research and continues to make significant contributions in instructional scholarship, both through the development of new courses and improvements in BME’s graduate training processes. In recognition of her devotion to and skill in teaching, she received a 2020 MSU Teacher Scholar Award.

Additionally, she is active in outreach activities to recruit women into BME and volunteers through the Society of Women in Engineering and Introduce a Girl to Engineering.

Jiliang Tang is considered by many to be a star in data mining and data science. Since joining MSU in 2016, he has distinguished himself in both research and teaching scholarship. He has created a well-rounded research agenda that includes identifying actionable patterns and insights and extracting knowledge from data, especially graphs.

Jiliang Tang is one of Withrow Junior Scholars in 2020.
Jiliang Tang honored as a 2020 Withrow Junior Scholar at MSU.

Tang’s scholarly efforts are building computational methods to advance critical interdisciplinary applications. He is also designing systems and tools to enable data analytics for researchers who are unable to extract needed information for their work. His research contributions are seminal, exploring new ideas or directions in the field, and are therefore widely cited by other researchers. More than 30 of his papers have been cited more than 100 times each, with an h-index of 50 and an aggregate of over 10,000 citations.

As one nominator said, the novelty and innovation of his research scholarship is evident by his numerous prestigious awards. Tang received a 2019 NSF CAREER Award, IJCAI Early Career Award, the 2019 AMiner Most Influential Scholar Award and the 2015 KDD Best Dissertation Award Runner-up. He is past recipient of seven best paper awards or runner-up for such honors.

His research momentum includes creating the Data Science and Engineering Lab, with two visiting professors, 16 PhD, three master, and five undergraduate students. He will graduate two PhD students the summer of 2020 -- one has accepted an offer from the computer science department of Vanderbilt University as a tenure-track assistant professor and the other has accepted an offer from LinkedIn as a research scientist.

He has published numerous papers from top conferences and in journals, making sure to include the contributions of his students. He has obtained 19 internal and external grants to fund his research agenda.

He is an active collaborator in the college and across MSU. His industrial collaborations include Criteo, Ford, JD.com, TAL, Google, and others.

As another nominator said, Tang brings an amazing collegiality and scientific strength to his collaborative work. Added another nominator, he has become the “go-to guy” when machine learning is needed.

Join in the celebration - Read more on the 2020 Engineering Awards and 2020 Teaching Excellence Awards.