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Gent: Researcher of the Year

 Stephen Gent
Stephen Gent, the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering Researcher of the Year. 

At South Dakota State University's Celebration of Faculty Excellence, Stephen Gent was named the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering's Outstanding Researcher.

"I was very honored and humbled to be named the college's researcher of the year," Gent said. "I wasn't expecting it, but I certainly appreciate the recognition."
Originally from a small community in southeastern Iowa, Gent grew up on a farm that had both livestock and crops. Working on a farm as a kid required a lot of hard work, but it also meant learning how to fix things and provided ample time to tinker with tools and machinery. 
"I was fascinated with machinery and how machines worked and what not," Gent said. "I was always looking for ways to improve how they worked as well."
Outside of farming, Gent also did well in school and enjoyed both math and science. He points to his mother, a retired schoolteacher, for fostering his interest in education. When it was time to head off to college, both of his parents encouraged him to pursue engineering, as they felt it fit his interests well. 
After graduation, Gent headed 130 miles northwest to Ames, Iowa. There, he attended Iowa State University, first receiving an undergraduate degree, then a master's and then a doctorate—all in mechanical engineering. 
In 2009, Gent left Iowa and came to SDSU to begin his professional career. Now a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Gent is involved in a number of research-related activities on campus, which include directing the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center. 
As director, Gent is responsible for overseeing the numerous projects that flow through the center, as well as providing authorization for grants.  
"The Sun Grant Center works collaboratively as a team to be advocates for the rural bio economy," Gent said. "We support research, teaching and Extension activities that foster the production, creation and utilization of value-added, bio-based products."
SDSU serves as the lead institution for the five Sun Grant regions with Gent overseeing all five regions. 
Research activities 
Since 2012, Gent has led a National Science Foundation-backed Research Experience for Undergraduates program each summer. Students from around the country converge on SDSU's campus for a 10-week holistic experience focused on providing undergraduate students with hands-on research projects. 
"I am interested and passionate about working with very bright and hardworking individuals to pursue research endeavors that have a practical, meaningful impact," Gent said. 
Gent's REU program, Promoting Leadership in Advanced-Research-Computing for Interdisciplinary Sectors, will continue this summer.
A prolific researcher himself, Gent is also currently involved in a $464,998, NSF-backed project with colleague Mark Messerli, an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Microbiology, that investigates how electricity generates force to move water through the tiniest spaces in the human body.  
"This project is looking at electroosmotic drip and flow at the cellular and tissue levels," Gent explained. "So we are trying to be able to better understand what's going on with fluid flow and nutrients exchange."

Gent and grad student Jenna Harrison looking at computer screen
Gent working with a student in 2020. 

The three-year project began in 2021. As Gent explains, the long-term goal from this project is to gain a better understanding of how electric-driven flow can influence how tissue grows and repairs. 
"This could actually promote wound healing," Gent added. 
Outside of his research responsibilities, Gent also teaches upper-level engineering courses, which involve computational fluid dynamics—his area of expertise. 
Gent is now one of the longest-tenured faculty members in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, having racked up over a decade of experience in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering. For Gent, what aspect of his job does he enjoy the most?
"I would say that the No. 1 aspect of my job that I get the most joy out of is seeing individuals—students or other colleagues who I've worked with—take the next steps and being very, very successful," Gent said. "It truly is a joy seeing others find their success, and I'm glad to have played a role in it."