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Gent becomes North Central Sun Grant regional director

South Dakota State University professor Stephen Gent is the regional director of the North Central Sun Grant Center, based at SDSU. Gent, who has been a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering for 11 years, is the first engineering researcher to hold the position, which he began July 21.

The Sun Grant Initiative seeks to promote the diversification and sustainability of agricultural and natural resource production through value-added processing developed through the five regional research centers.

As North Central regional director, Gent will facilitate university research in 10 states— Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Gent replaces Vance Owens, the director since 2012.

Stephen Gent headshot
Professor Stephen Gent is the first engineering researcher to serve as regional director of the North Central Sun Grant Center.

“I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity and to work toward the continued success of the Sun Grant mission,” Gent said. After earning his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Iowa State University, Gent became an assistant professor at SDSU in fall 2009 and recently was promoted to full professor.

Gent, whose expertise is in thermal fluid systems, has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator for nearly $4 million in private, state and federally funded research projects. He has worked on projects ranging from optimizing grain dryer operations to modeling blood flow through implantable cardiovascular devices as well as predictive modeling of the neutrino detectors being constructed for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead.

In June, he completed a yearlong stint as the interim associate dean for research in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering. “The interim position gave me an opportunity to be immersed in the operation of a complex organization,” he said.

Gent, who is originally from southeastern Iowa, grew up on a grain and hog farm. “Having spent my youth on the farm, I know how important a strong, vibrant rural and agricultural economy is,” he said.

“One of the key research and development areas will be transforming resources we have in our farms and rangelands into value-added products,” Gent said. “In a time when the price of fuel is $2 a gallon, one of the challenges will be to get into different markets that have high value where we do not compete against a plentiful, inexpensive commodity. If we are able to take things we now produce and sell by the ton and transform it into a high value product to be sold by the pound, or even by the gram, that would be huge.”

Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel Scholl said, “Dr. Gent’s experience in engineering research related to agriculture, his leadership and his vision position him well to lead the regional Sun Grant Center. He brings a new perspective to developing the high-value products and value chains that will help build our agricultural and natural resource economy.”