Albert Patterson

UAH alumnus Dr. Albert Patterson.

Images courtesy of Albert Patterson

Dr. Albert Patterson, an alumnus of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, was named a 2020-2021 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Grainger College of Engineering Mavis Future Faculty Fellow.

Dr. Patterson earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Industrial Engineering, both at UAH, where he was mentored by Dr. Sherri Messimer, Associate Professor in UAH's Industrial & Systems Engineering and Engineering Management Department (ISEEM). In May he earned his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering at UIUC.

“My years at UAH and the excellent education and mentorship I received there definitely helped prepare me for the journey and helped me to get through it during the rough times,” the alumnus says. “I am very honored to have been nominated and awarded the Fellowship. There are typically about 40 fellows per year, but as far as I can find out, I am only the third one from an industrial or systems engineering background in the past several years.”

The Mavis Future Faculty Fellows (MF3) Academy was created to facilitate the training and development of future engineering faculty. The three main components of the Academy include research, teaching and mentorship, all designed to help Fellows become proficient in these core areas. MF3 Fellows gain significant teaching experience through the program, typically in a teaching assistantship inside the student’s department or in the Grainger College of Engineering.

“Earning my Ph.D. was certainly a challenging experience and took five years of dedicated work, but it was overall an excellent experience,” Dr. Patterson says. “The Mavis Future Faculty Fellowship (a 1-year program I completed during my last year of Ph.D. studies) was a wonderful opportunity for me, as I received extra training in both applying for and starting an academic job. It was a very serious program, as most of the mentors and guest speakers were deans and heads of national-level research labs.”

Dr. Patterson comes from a large family with nine siblings in all, and so far he and four of his family members have graduated from UAH.

“Three from the College of Engineering and two from the College of Business, and two more are currently pursuing degrees at UAH,” he notes proudly. “We are from the Huntsville area; many of us grew up in rural Lincoln County in Tennessee, but most of the family now resides in North Alabama between Madison and Scottsboro.”

Dr. Patterson found himself surrounded by plenty of encouraging voices and abundant advice when it came to selecting a university.

“I guess I always thought of UAH as the place to go from the time I started high school, as so many family friends and people my family knew encouraged it. I received a UAH Presidential Merit Scholarship and a Foundation Scholarship from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which definitely made attending UAH all the more attractive. At the beginning it seemed like a logical next step, but as I progressed, I came to appreciate UAH and the high quality of education I received there, and so I was very grateful to have been given the chance. It worked out well for me, and I had no problem finding good jobs in Huntsville after graduation.”

The alumnus worked for three years as an engineer with Boeing, as well as in a position with the Missile Defense Agency on Redstone Arsenal, before deciding to pursue an academic career. Seeking advice from his UAH connections helped him narrow down his choices when he was looking for specific research opportunities.

“I started by asking advice from the UAH professors who I kept in contact with. On their advice and my research, I applied to universities based on being able to work in specific research labs where I could receive the best training. I ended up getting accepted to and funded by six major Ph.D. programs and selected UIUC because of the opportunity to work with Dr. James Allison, who was a rising star in the field and who knew several of the professors at UAH. It turned out to be an excellent decision!”

In addition to research, Dr. Patterson has long wanted to teach as well. “I was an undergrad teaching assistant and certified tutor during my bachelor’s degree, carrying on as an official TA during both of my graduate degrees,” he explains. “During my times as a practicing engineer, I was also able to teach at UAH as an adjunct professor. By the time that my Ph.D. was awarded, I was the instructor of record for five courses and TA (with student-facing duties including lecturing) for 14 more, as well as serving as a mentor for several programs. I have four teaching/mentorship awards from UIUC, the highlight being one I received after being ranked in the top 10% of all instructors one semester based on student evaluations. I really appreciate the educational side of engineering and will always try to incorporate new and interesting ideas into my teaching.”

This August Dr. Patterson will begin a new position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology at Texas A&M University.

“I will be the director of the new Manufacturability-Driven Design Lab,” he says. “My research will focus on the intersection of design, manufacturing science and experimental solid mechanics, where I hope I can come up with better mechanical design methods and tools based on real-world data and better considerations of manufacturing needs and parameters. My research is very interdisciplinary and covers several areas at the same time; some of my friends joke that I am the only industrial engineer in history who wrote a dissertation related to fracture mechanics (a field very unrelated to traditional industrial engineering)!”

When he pauses to consider the future, the Mavis Fellow finds he is more than satisfied with the journey he has chosen so far.

“I think for now, my path is set for the next few years at least. I will settle into my academic job, work to earn tenure and become a guiding voice in my field of study. Someday I may decide to make a big change, but I think the current path I am on suits me well and will allow me to live a happy and fulfilled life, while also having my dream career. I am very grateful and blessed to have the chance to do this, and I am certainly going to take full advantage of it!”