Meet the New Department Chair, Clint Dawson

September 2, 2020

We are pleased to officially welcome Clint Dawson as the new chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. Professor Dawson has served in the department as a faculty member for 25 years. He was instrumental in establishing the new computational engineering undergraduate program, and his research in data-driven storm-surge modeling has had a major impact on the response to natural disasters in Texas. He leads the Computational Hydraulics Group at the Oden Institute of Computational Engineering and Sciences and holds the J.J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering. Watch Dr. Dawson's welcome message and learn more about his key priorities for the department, his research and personal interests and more.

As you settle into your new leadership role as department chair, what do you see as your key priorities?

I see four main priorities:

  • Get us through the COVID-19 crisis and then assess where we are after the worst passes and we enter a new normal. There is no doubt that things will be different and at present we don’t know what the future holds.
  • Work with the faculty to determine our strategic research and educational goals for the next five years. Perform a self-evaluation and determine where we see strengths and weaknesses.
  • Continue efforts to increase the diversity of our faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate populations.
  • Expand the department’s broader outreach to the local community and explore educational and research partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
You led department efforts to establish the first computational engineering undergraduate program offered in the U.S. What is the importance of this new program?

First, I want to give credit where credit is due. The computational engineering (COE) undergraduate program started with a suggestion from a former faculty member Venkat Raman, to increase the number of computational science and programming courses in the aerospace engineering (ASE) curriculum. Noel Clemens, department chair at the time, had the idea to turn it into a new degree program and I took it from there with lots of help from former academic advising coordinator Sarah Kitten, assistant director Nisreen Singharaj and others. 

COE at UT Austin – the first ABET-approved program of its kind – differentiates our department from others in the Cockrell School and across the nation, and places us on the cutting edge of simulation-based engineering and emerging fields in computational science. It brings outstanding students to our department – some who may have otherwise selected another major – and serves as a pipeline for well-trained graduate students in ASE/EM, the Oden Institute and other university programs. It has also exposed ASE/EM to new industries through the recruitment of our COE graduates. Both are beneficial to the department’s reputation. Moving forward, we will continue to adapt the COE curriculum to remain at the forefront as leaders and educators in this dynamic field.

What do you enjoy most about your research on hurricane storm-surge modeling and how is it making a difference?

What is most enjoyable has been observing how basic research that started decades ago has been translated over time into a computer simulator that can be used for the greater good. The model we have developed can be used to: (1) help guide emergency managers in disaster planning and recovery during hurricanes in real-time; (2) study potential mitigation and protection strategies across the nation and the world to protect communities from future hurricanes; and (3) study environmental impacts of hurricanes, impacts on industry and transportation, population demographics, etc. Essentially, it can save lives. I also very much enjoy working with my collaborators from different universities and agencies.    

How would you describe your teaching style?

Old-school. I still like to write on the blackboard and use handwritten notes instead of PowerPoint or something else. I want to engage the students in the lecture without intimidation – a wrong reply is better than no reply. I also want the students to realize that I want them to succeed, not fail. 

How do you spend your free time?

By nature, I can be very lazy if I put my mind to it. I do try to work out. I keep up with the news and current events and I am very interested in politics and history and how they intersect. I follow sports, especially football and basketball at both the college and pro levels. I like movies and good TV shows but I usually don’t have the bandwidth to keep up with all of that – there are too many options now. I am also a member of a local Episcopalian church and I have been involved in the activities of that community for many years.