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New SDSU engineering department head at work

Yucheng Liu
Yucheng Liu

New mechanical engineering department head Yucheng Liu (“Yu-chin Lew”) arrived in Brookings before his professional wardrobe, but that hasn’t kept him from hitting the ground running.

Liu began work July 22 as head of the mechanical engineering department at the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering at South Dakota State University after working seven years at Mississippi State University. He replaces Kurt Bassett, who retired June 21 after 14 years as department head and 32 years at SDSU.

Liu and his family moved into their south Brookings home July 9, but suits and ties weren’t part of what the moving truck brought from Starkville.

But shorts and polos haven’t kept Liu from being productive in leading the college’s largest department as measured by enrollment (451 as of fall 2020). Bruce Berdanier, dean of the college, said, “Liu has the energy and academic experience to take the mechanical engineering department in building an expanded vision for the future. I’m excited to see how he leads our talented group of faculty members.”

In his initial weeks at State, Liu has been getting to know the 16 faculty members in the department and the programs they direct.

“All of the faculty members are top notch; the best faculty I have seen in my career,” said Liu, whose academic career began at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2009, leaving in 2014 to become an associate professor at Mississippi State. By 2018, he was named the Jack Hatcher Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship and in 2019, at age 43, he earned the title of professor.


Impressive academic background

Liu considers his strong academic background to be one of his strengths.

In 1997, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Hefei University of Technology, an engineering school in China. He then worked three years as an engineer at Shanghai Yanfeng Automobile Trim Products Co. before coming to Louisville. There he earned master’s (2003) and doctoral (2005) degrees in mechanical engineering.

After earning his doctorate, Liu did three years of postdoctoral research at Louisville and then became an assistant professor at Louisiana-Lafayette in January 2009.

“It only took me 10 years to rise to full professor. I have taught 18 courses to undergraduate and graduate students and developed two new courses. I have advised six Ph.D. students and more than 20 master’s students. I have published more than 230 peer-reviewed publications and brought in $15.5 million to support my research and have completed over 40 externally funded projects.

“I know teaching and I know research. I can provide support to faculty and have administrative experience as well,” Liu said.

Berdanier said Liu has proven himself at Mississippi State, where graduate student enrollment and female enrollment in the mechanical engineering department grew 39% and 71%, respectively, during his tenure. He added his experience as the Jack Hatcher Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship will be particularly valuable at SDSU.


Also named Sander Endowed Professor

That’s because Liu also is serving as the inaugural Duane Sander Endowed Professor in Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SDSU.

Endowed professorships are essential to recruit and retain the highest quality faculty members with earnings from the endowment used to enhance the professor’s salary as well as supporting the professor’s research, SDSU officials said. The prestige of endowed professors also helps attract high-quality students, they added.

The purpose of the Sander professorship is like that of the Hatcher chair, Berdanier said.

“Working with students and faculty on course design, curriculum development and experiential learning activities, the Sander professor will bridge the gap between classroom instruction, the research laboratory and the commercialization of new engineering and IT technologies and innovations,” Berdanier said.

He added, the Sander professor “will drive more robust economic growth derived from financially successful entrepreneurial activities.”

Liu said, “To address today’s global challenges, we need novel approaches that only can be developed by students with an entrepreneurial mindset. I’m also excited to work with faculty and their inventions, encouraging them to locate their business in our research park, which will increase the visibility of the department.

“On one hand, I’m ready to work with faculty to help them apply for patents. On the other hand, I’m excited to prepare our students as entrepreneurs.”

Sander investiture ceremony set

The Sander position is a $1 million endowment created by gifts solicited through the SDSU Foundation with a 1-1 match provided by Sander, Al Kurtenbach, Jim Morgan and Daktronics Inc. Sander and Kurtenbach were SDSU electrical engineering professors when they founded Daktronics in 1968 and Morgan is a retired CEO.

Liu and the endowment donors will be honored at an investiture ceremony 10 a.m. Aug. 27 at Woster Celebration Hall in the Lohr Building on the SDSU campus.

Liu said he plans to meet with Sander, Kurtenbach, Morgan and current Daktronics President and CEO Reece Kurtenbach to gain a feel for what they hope the Sander professor will accomplish. He said he also plans to collaborate with the Milton Nies Chair in Enterprise Economics in SDSU’s Ness School of Management and Economics.

At home, he collaborates with his wife, Yili Gu, and their sons, Louis, 11, and Alex, 8. Liu’s hobbies include ping pong, soccer, watching sports and reading history.