Purush Damodaran, Ph.D., always knew he wanted to be an academic. But he also wanted to be a working engineer. In his position as chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at NIU, he does both.
Damodaran joined the faculty of the NIU College ofEngineering and Engineering Technology in 2009. He said his path to becoming a professor was never in question: everyone in his family is in academia.
“My parents, my siblings, my uncles, they are all academics,” he said. “But in academics in the U.S., you have the freedom to work with industry. You can still engage with companies. Ever since I graduated [with a Ph.D. from Texas A&M] in 2002, every year I have worked with multiple companies.”
Damodaran became chair of the department at NIU in 2012. He is a prolific researcher and engineers solutions for companies throughout the region to improve quality and efficiency. Damodaran said he visits with at least one corporate partner every week.
In addition to his corporate activity and running the department, Damodaran still teaches, relishing the opportunity to connect his students with industry so they can see the practical application of subject matter.
“A textbook just shows equations. Sometimes that’s not sufficient to make a student want to learn,” he said. “Visiting companies demonstrates to students how what they learn in class is applied to the real world. It makes it easy to come up with examples to help students understand a concept.”
He takes his classes on field visits to companies throughout the region, and he often invites students to assist on the industry-based projects he works on every semester.
“All of my projects include students,” he said. “Every industrial project, I have at least one graduate student, and many undergraduate students also work with me.”
Damodaran enjoys how his work at NIU allows him the freedom to be both a teacher and an engineer. One of the most rewarding feelings, he said, is watching students evolve over the course of four years from unprepared freshmen to full professionals.
“When former students come back to visit, it is nice to see their success and to think I played a small role in somebody’s career,” he said. “That goes a long way [for professors] to keep us doing what we are doing.”