Dean helps aspiring engineer from Zimbabwe attend camp at UD

At the University of Delaware, our passion for engineering education goes beyond the classroom — it spans the globe.

Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of the College of Engineering at UD, was visiting extended family in Zimbabwe, near Victoria Falls, in 2017 when he met Lin Pullen and her 12-year-old son, Dhruv Justin Pullen.

Within minutes, Ogunnaike could tell that Dhruv had a special gift — the curiosity of an engineer. Dhruv told Ogunnaike about his collection of model trains and shared that he was fascinated by the way real trains move on tracks.

“He was intrigued about the principles behind the implied locomotion,” said Ogunnaike. “Even though he did not use the term ‘thermodynamics,’ he was clearly reaching for it in trying to describe his fascination with how steam is used move a massive object like a train.”

Ogunnaike was impressed. In his career, which has spanned nearly four decades of leadership in both industrial and academic settings, he’s learned the signs that someone has the passion and potential for a future in engineering.

“Engineers usually display a curiosity about the principles behind how things work: how automobiles move, how air conditioners and refrigerators cool, and how to build and design bridges and such things,” said Ogunnaike. They also tend to love problem solving and take a systematic approach to life.

Ogunnaike was so inspired that he consulted Dhruv’s mother, Lin Pullen, to see how he could help the boy learn more about science, math and engineering.

“After spending some time with Dhruv, Babatunde said to me, ‘I would like to organise for Dhruv to come to our yearly summer camp,’ as he believed there was something very special about Dhruv and his passion for engineering,” said Lin Pullen.

Ogunnaike and his wife, Anna Ogunnaike, an adjunct instructor of French in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, provided housing so that Dhruv could attend Young Engineers camp, a one-week summer camp offered by the University of Delaware College of Engineering’s K-12 Outreachprogram. In this camp, rising 6th through 8th graders with an interest in science, math and engineering learn more through through hands-on laboratory activities and lessons from UD engineering faculty and staff. (UD also offers similar, developmentally appropriate camps for 3rd to 5th graders and 9th to 10th graders.)

Dhruv’s favorite part of the camp was a session in which campers designed a communication panel for space aircraft, said Pullen. They used spare parts to make something new — which was right up Dhruv’s alley.

“This is something he does at home and thoroughly enjoys doing it,” said Lin Pullen.

Melissa Jurist, academic program manager for UD Engineering’s K-12 Outreach Program, said that when she assigned the communication panel activity, Dhruv was, “perhaps the most enthusiastic student in the room.”

Jurist continued: “His leadership with his fellow future engineers was wondrous. I remember him saying something like, ‘Now, now, let’s not disagree.  We can all have a say.’ This kid is one of the nicest kids I have ever had in camp.”

Lin Pullen said that Dhruv returned from the summer camp with a “fresh outlook” and an understanding of concepts that made him even more excited about his passion for engineering and making and building things. Dhruv is “definitely more excited about science and engineering and now that he has been exposed to such a wonderful course he wants to share it with his classmates,” she said. “The week went by in a flash for him but the experience has spurred him on to do better things if he continues to work and study hard to fulfill his passion of becoming an engineer.”

International engineering education

Ogunnaike, who is stepping down as dean of the College of Engineering on Oct. 1 to return to UD’schemical engineering faculty, is passionate about outreach to aspiring engineers.

“The challenges facing the world today are daunting and will only get progressively worse if we don’t do something to address them now,” said Ogunnaike. “Part of addressing them involves inspiring and educating the next generation of solution providers, equipping them with the skills not just to solve the problems at hand, but being able to understand how to formulate the problems yet to be manifested, and to provide solutions that will not make the initial problem worse.”

For decades, Ogunnaike has been a proponent of international educational opportunities in engineering, from the K-12 level through undergraduate and graduate education and beyond. For example, he has been a strong supporter of UD’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a group that is working to bring potable water to a village in Malawi.

In honor of Ogunnaike’s seven years of service as dean, the University has established the Babatunde Ogunnaike Global Engineering Student Enrichment Fund, which was announced by President Dennis Assanis at a reception in honor of Ogunnaike held on July 2, 2018. This new endowment is structured to provide financial assistance for students to engage in impactful global activities, such as an Engineers Without Borders service trip, a summer, semester, or winter session in a study abroad program, or international research in support of a new entrepreneurial venture.

This gift was made to to honor Ogunnaike’s leadership and is made possible by the generosity of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council, Ogunnaike’s colleagues and friends of the University.