Engineering Professor Wins Top Faculty Award

Students and Colleagues Cite Engineering Professor Demetre Economou's Vision and Dedication

For his demonstrated excellence in all areas of faculty responsibility for more than two decades, engineering professor Demetre Economou has been named the recipient of the University of Houston’s highest faculty honor, the Esther Farfel Award, which carries with it a $10,000 prize.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award, especially knowing that some heavy hitters have received it in the past,” said Economou, a John and Rebecca Moores Professor at the Cullen College of Engineering. “There are quite a few top-notch faculty across campus who could have won it.”

Economou joined the university in 1986 and has been the associate chair of the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the undergraduate program director of the department since 1995. He also heads the Plasma Processing Laboratory.

“He is recognized nationally and internationally as the leading expert in plasma processing of materials and the application of chemical engineering principles to the area of manufacturing of electronic materials and now, more broadly, for the manufacturing of nanomaterials,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chairman of Economou’s department. “He also was the recipient of the Plasma Prize from the American Vacuum Society – the highest honor in the field.”

Economou’s colleagues say it is his creativity and diligence that makes him stand apart.

“He conducts both experimental and theoretical studies of processing plasmas and is one of a very few researchers that perform both types of investigations at a strictly first-rate level,” explained Vincent Donnelly, a John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Mike Harold, former chairman of the department, commended Economou, who was honored with UH’s Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award last year, for his high level of scholarship and his dedication to his students.

“Demetre’s research accomplishments are not only a result of his creativity and research acumen but also of his steady mentorship of his doctoral students,” Harold said. “Over his career at UH, Demetre has graduated 23 doctoral students. This is an average of about one per year. This is no small feat: In the chemical engineering academe, only the top departments have faculty members who graduate students at this rate.”

Indeed, Ecnomou credits his students for inspiring and driving him.

“Actually, this award belongs to all 23 of my Ph.D. students who now excel in industry and academia,” he said. “What motivates me is the students and, with their help, the discovery of new science.”

Economou proves that great researchers often are great teachers, according to professor Dan Luss, who led the chemical engineering department for more than 20 years.

“His teaching evaluations consistently rank him as one of the most-respected instructors,” Luss said. “He consistently gets rave reviews because of his innate ability to teach students how to interpret and analyze a physical system.”

Student comments on teaching evaluations underscore this point.

“Dr. Economou is the best teacher I have had in graduate school. He is clear and direct in presentation, calm and collected when answering students’ questions, and fair in his evaluation of class work,” one student wrote. “It would benefit our department if Dr. Economou were to give a class to the other professors on clear communication and effective teaching methods.”

Professor Ray Flumerfelt emphasized that Economou has long been a key leader in the department.

“His input, judgment and activities are at the core of any important decisions and developments, whether graduate, undergraduate, faculty and student matters, research, or whatever,” Flumerfelt said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Professor James T. Richardson, who credited Economou’s leadership as associate chairman with making the department one of the top-ranked undergraduate programs in the country.

Richardson said the role requires ensuring high standards in student selection and retention and in teaching.

“Dr. Economou typically advises several hundred incoming students every year and maintains this mentoring until they are juniors. He organizes the undergraduate and graduate teaching schedules and assigns instructors. He chairs the scholarship committee and is the first arbitrator of student complaints,” Richardson said. “These responsibilities are common for this position, but it is amazing that Dr. Economou has done this successfully for the past 13 years and has not only maintained our high reputation but has also excelled in his other activities of research and teaching.”

Awarding of the Farfel honor is based upon the significance and impact of a professor’s research or creative activity, teaching ability and service to the university, the profession and the community.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities.  UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students. 

About the Cullen College of Engineering
The Cullen College of Engineering at UH has produced five U.S. astronauts, 10 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top 10 nationally.  With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering.  It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications. 

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