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From left: UMD Mechanical Engineering Academic Advisor and Manager for Outreach and Recruitment, Fitzgerald Walker, former UMD Mechanical Engineering Chair Balakumar Balachandran, and UMD President Darryll Pines.

From left: UMD Mechanical Engineering Academic Advisor and Manager for Outreach and Recruitment, Fitzgerald Walker, former UMD Mechanical Engineering Chair Balakumar Balachandran, and UMD President Darryll Pines.

 

Balakumar (Bala) Balachandran, Minta Martin Professor and Distinguished University Professor, who stepped down as Chair of the UMD Department of Mechanical Engineering at the end of 2023, was honored for his years of leadership at a special celebration on March 1.

UMD President Darryll L. Pines, University of Maryland, Baltimore President Bruce Jarrell, and Maryland Engineering’s Dean Samuel Graham, Jr., joined other university leaders, faculty members, and longtime colleagues in praising Balachandran’s impact on the Department and sharing reminiscences of his time as Chair.

UMD A. James Clark School of Engineering Dean Samuel Graham, Jr.

Prof. Balachandran, who first joined the UMD faculty in 1993, was appointed Acting Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2010 and became Chair in 2011—a position he would hold for close to another 13 years. During that time, the department experienced surges in undergraduate enrollment, a growing reputation among peers, and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his remarks, Dean Graham noted the Department’s steady rise in national rankings under Balachandran’s leadership, as well as his broader impact on the A. James Clark School of Engineering and pioneering contributions as a researcher.

"Bala has been a force in the Clark School for more than 30 years. During that time, he has made immeasurable contributions to society by empowering students with the spirit of service needed to change the world," Graham said.

An expert on applied mathematics, nonlinear phenomena, engineering dynamics, vibrations, and control, Balachandran has published not only numerous journal articles but multiple textbooks. Despite the demands of leading a department that is larger than some colleges, he has continued to build up a substantial body of research–and the accolades have kept coming.

In 2021, he became one of only two UMD faculty members to receive the coveted Den Hartog Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the same year, the organization also conferred upon him the Lyapunov Award. A year later, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded him the Robert H. Scanlan Medal.

"It’s rare to have a Chair who is at the top of their game with their research, who is also very good with the nuts and bolts of the job, and who really cares about doing the right things for the Department at every turn," UMD Mechanical Engineering Professor Don DeVoe said of Balachandran in a 2023 interview. DeVoe also spoke at the March 1 event.

The list of speakers also included Mechanical Engineering alumnus (BS ‘98) Jim Moreland, Vice President, Mission Engineering & Integration Raytheon—Air and Space Defense Systems. Moreland is Vice Chair of the UMD Department of Mechanical Engineering Visiting Committee, which provides guidance and advice on industry needs, educational priorities, and student outcomes.

Additional celebratory remarks were made by Professor Emeritus D.K. Anand, whose Neilom Foundation has provided substantial philanthropic support to the Department’s programs and students; Fitzgerald Walker who first joined the Department in the Graduate Office when Balachandran served as Director of Graduate Studies, and Dean Amitabh Varshney of the UMD College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, and Professor of Computer Science.

The event was MC’d by Balachandran’s successor as Chair, Professor Harry Dankowicz. Dankowicz, whose past professional collaboration with Balachandran includes extensive committee and editorial board service to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, reflected on the event as “the culmination of my onboarding process, making clear the very deep impact that Bala has had on this community, and his many admirable personal qualities that deserve emulation.”



March 11, 2024


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