Professor recognized for leadership and outreach to underrepresented students
By Chris Levister –
When UC Riverside Professor of Bioengineering Victor G. J. Rodgers stepped to the podium to receive the Distinguished Engineers’ Council Award it was a proud moment for UC Riverside and his biggest cheerleader, his identical twin Vincent, a distinguished theoretical physics professor at the University of Iowa.
The Engineering Educator of the Year Award presented at The Engineers' Council's 55th annual honors and awards banquet Saturday, Feb. 20th honored individuals who are outstanding in professional qualities, have a top reputation for engineering education leadership, and have significantly contributed to students' extracurricular activities and scientific achievements.
Rodgers thanked the council for recognizing the importance of engineering educators. He also thanked Reza Abbaschian Dean Bourns College of Engineering for nominating him for the award.
“I hope this award will help spotlight UC Riverside’s commitment to the principles of excellence in student achievement, our openness, fairness and deep belief that every student should get the support and encouragement to be everything that he or she can be,” Rodgers said.
“Victor Rodgers is a genuinely dedicated educator and researcher who goes far beyond expectations to engage students, ensure their success and follow their careers long after they graduate," said Abbaschian.
Rodgers is director of The B2K Group (Biotransport and Bioreaction Kinetics Group.) The research group uses the fundamental principles of transport phenomena, reaction engineering kinetics and thermodynamics to investigate and develop exciting areas in biomedical engineering and bioseparations. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).
For the Rodgers twins the quest for academic achievement is a family matter. The St. Louis natives, who were born one minute apart in a cesarean birth, have always been interested in science.
When the brothers were six years old they got toy robots for Christmas. Vincent recalls the robots would walk across the floor shooting ping pong balls from its arms.
“What was so cool about those robots was you could take them apart and see all of the gears. You could see how everything worked.” Growing up, Victor and Vincent spent a lot of time dismantling the family’s appliances – “the TV, radio, just about anything mechanical,” said Victor.
“It drove our parents crazy,” recalled Victor. “Our mom was a nurse, and she would ask her staff if they had old radio parts, and then she’d bring home a box of stuff that we took apart and put back together.”
The two completed their undergraduate degrees at the University of Dayton but went their separate ways for graduate school. Fast forward they served on the faculty of the University of Iowa together until Victor joined the UCR faculty in 2006. “When you have a twin, you’re never alone—you always have a friend,” Victor said. Still the brothers retain some of their sibling rivalry.
“There’s no competition between us, because I’m smarter than he is," teases Vincent. Victor replies, "His mind is starved to do deeper things in life.”
While they have chosen different paths of learning, Victor and Vincent are still competing to learn about the world. Sons of a nurse and the editor of a Black newspaper, the twins an older sister and younger brother grew up in a family that nurtured their love for math and science.
“They demanded excellence.
They always told us if you believe in something, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.” The brothers have exhibited particular devotion both to enhancing their profession and encouraging young low-income, first generation, and underrepresented minority students to pursue engineering careers.
Victor currently serves as faculty adviser to the UCR chapter NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers). He is widely recognized for his inclusion advocacy at the University of Pittsburgh and was honored for helping to increase the percentage of underrepresented minority U.S. PhDs at the University of Iowa from 8.3% to 25.6% in three years.
“I really love helping people, but what keeps me excited when working with students and faculty is that I don’t just listen. I give useful strategies and advice that help people achieve their goals.”
“The problem now is that teachers don’t motivate students in math and science,” said Victor, who established mentoring programs at U of Iowa and Pittsburgh. “Without that motivation some students get discouraged. They don’t want to be a failure, so in college they don’t go into those fields. That is why mentoring is so important.”
In an era of nearly constant distraction the key, he said, is getting students interested at a young age.
“I think the selling point for engineering is a little more challenging for young people, especially underrepresented minorities. They don’t see engineers in their communities, so it doesn’t register.
The key to getting more African Americans in science and technology? “We’ve got to stop making what we do seem so abstract and complex,” said Victor. “Instead show how these degrees can be used in everyday life.”
“I tell students the sky is the limit but that they can’t get caught up in what others are doing or not doing.” Don’t be afraid to take risks, Victor added. “You have to recognize that sometimes you will fail. But you have to regard both the successes and failures as stepping stones and always focus on looking forward.”
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