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Steve Duke

Associate dean for academics
Samuel Ginn College of Engineering

Steve Duke is the associate dean for academics in Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and Alumni Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. He has received the college's prestigious Walker Superior Teaching Award three times, as well as the SGA Outstanding Faculty Award.

Duke earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He joined Auburn's faculty in 1996. His research interests include flow and energy visualization, polymer and drug particle processing, alternative fuels development and technology education. He has served on the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Career and Education Operating Council and as faculty adviser for Auburn's student chapter for more than 10 years.

Duke has served on Auburn's Core Curriculum Oversight Committee. He co-directs the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program in Micro/Nano-Structured Materials, Therapeutics and Devices. He is currently the faculty adviser for the college's study abroad technology partnership with Andean communities in Bolivia and for the student organization which is establishing a chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA.

1. What brought you and your intellect to Auburn?

I came to Auburn in 1996 because I thought it was a great place to teach and do research in chemical engineering. My wife, Robin, and I thought the town would be a great place to raise our 2-year-old daughter, Kate, and 2-month-old son, Bram, and we were close to my parents who lived near Atlanta. It's a beautiful campus full of excellent faculty and great students, and I knew that I would greatly enjoy working on a team with many of the faculty who I had admired and knew would help and support me (and they certainly have). I had a good sense that Auburn was strong in research, but that it maintained strength and emphasis in undergraduate education.

2. Can you tell me about the Auburn student organization that is involved with global engineering service?

In 2007 and 2008 I worked with a core group of engineering students to consider forming a student organization dedicated to engineering service learning projects in needy communities. This led to the establishment of a very active group of 40 to 60 students each year that are working on food and energy projects through NGOs with Quechuan communities in the Bolivia upper Andes. The student organization is now working with Engineers Without Borders – USA to establish a student chapter at Auburn.

I am faculty advisor for the group and we have taken teams of 12 to 15 students on Auburn Study Abroad trips (service learning tours) in August of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Student teams work tirelessly, meeting every week (Thursdays at 7 p.m. in Shelby) and often other multiple times per week and over weekends to collaborate with partners in Bolivia to develop designs and technology options for various projects. Completed projects include a solar water shower system for a high school dormitory, science projects for hands-on learning in the classrooms, charcoal from agricultural wastes and a pilot hydroponics demonstration system. Projects under way now include a large-scale hydroponics facility for producing feed for guinea pigs and a 50-plus acre irrigation project for a barren section of terraced croplands (collection systems were design and implemented in 2012, distribution in 2013).

3. What has been your favorite experience during your visits to Bolivia?

That is a tough one. We have taken four teams to Bolivia and the experiences each time and with every team were amazing. Getting to work with the NGOs SIFAT and CENATEC, and community members and farmers in Quesimpuco has been rewarding and fruitful. A lot of the excitement and meaning of the experiences were captured in the 2012 video. I guess one of my favorite experiences was during the 2012 trip walking back on an Andean trail one evening from the irrigation job site with Auburn Engineering alumna Melissa Herkt and her stopping dead in her tracks and saying, "Do you realize we just greeted several farmers, stopped to let sheep and donkeys pass and it didn't seem the least bit out of the ordinary?" It's kind of neat how we work closely with them year-round and have visited enough that we have familiarity and trust with the people there.

4. Why is it important for Auburn students and faculty to be involved in other countries?

I think it is important because we are a global society. We can be in Bolivia in a few hours; Uganda in a few more. All of our faces can pop up on screens and we have discussions instantaneously.

I think it is important because it is unavoidable and becoming almost a "natural" part of a week. So having purposeful components of education aimed at development of global and cross-culture interactions is not optional now – it should be expected, but in concert with interactions with people in the room with you, a few streets over, a town a few miles away, etc.

5. What's your favorite Auburn football memory?

Interestingly, my favorite Auburn football memory did not occur here on campus. In 2010, my whole extended family rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tenn., for Thanksgiving weekend. My dad, mom, son, daughter, sister, her daughter, my brother and his family all came together and we had a great weekend together. The house we rented on a hillside had an open floor plan with TVs on several floors, but nowhere for us all to watch together, so we could hear but not see each other. And you probably remember the game – quite depressing start and it looked like our season was going to be squashed, trailing Alabama by 24.

Unpleasant comments were flying from floor to floor. Then the discipline, magic and Cam happened, and a whole new set of comments flying floor to floor – we could hear hooting and hollering from other cabins. In 2010 we had no Auburn alumni in the family (my daughter Kate is a sophomore now) but we were "All Auburn" just the same and to this day, we still talk about how much fun we had watching that game.

Sept. 9, 2013