Kamau Wright's Dedication and Work Within CETA and the UHart Community

March 20, 2019
Kamau Wright Headshot

Kamau Wright, PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.), joined the University of Hartford in the fall of 2016 as an assistant professor for the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture (CETA). He has become an active member of the CETA community ever since.

Wright has authored a number of awarded proposals and publications related to investigation of plasma discharges and their impact on a range of thermo-fluid systems. He has a selection of recent and active research projects related to plasma water treatment and plasma decomposition of carbon dioxide (CO2), supported by a Coffin Grant, Faculty-Student Engagement Grants, and two NASA Space Grants.

Wright intends to help advance the understanding of interactions between high voltage plasmas and liquids, and to stimulate potential use in cleaning and disinfecting water. “Some of the methods used to clean water can be energy intensive, expensive, or result in the generation of harmful bi-products, such as in the use of chlorine. Developing and enhancing advanced water treatment technologies can bolster access to clean water and stimulate overall water conservation,” says Wright.

He also describes his efforts with using plasma discharges to help decrease CO2 concentrations in gas samples. “These are innovations that, if studied and improved, can be of terrestrial environmental interest, and also valuable to helping replenish oxygen reserves during space travel, or in a Martian environment, which has 96% CO2,” Wright says. 

Wright has opened opportunities for many undergraduate and graduate CETA students excited about plasmas and interested in participating in related research activities. “With what we do here in CETA, undergraduates many times are able to work much closer to faculty than they would at many other institutions and are able to have robust experiences that might typically be reserved for graduate students at other places.”

Robert Galvez ’19, M’20, Mechanical Engineering with Concentration in Energy Engineering and Sustainable Design has been a student of Wright’s for some time and feels inspired by the work he has showcased in the classroom.

“Professor Wright is passionate, brilliant, and has been an inspiration in helping me conduct research and pursue my master’s degree,” Galvez says. “His wealth of knowledge in the exciting field of plasma is matched only by his incredible skills as a professor and mentor."

Instructor, STRIDE (Success Team for Readiness Improvement Diversity and Excellence)

Wright is the Lead Instructor for STRIDE, a new endeavor helping to enhance retention and success for students. He developed programming and curriculum, and led STRIDE’s weekly sessions during its inaugural year in fall 2018. A major goal of this program has been to help enhance retention and success for black and Latino male students across campus. Wright fostered a range of approaches, focusing on proven strategies for obtaining academic excellence and maximizing GPAs to a 4.0. According to Wright, the STRIDE cohort was able to achieve significantly higher GPAs and complete a higher number of credits as compared to similar populations of students. Keanu Alcoces ’22, Mechanical Engineering, is a student with whom Wright has had the opportunity to work on plasma specific research. Alcoces was also one of fifteen students to participate in STRIDE this fall and has already shown great potential as an undergraduate researcher. “With every STRIDE meeting, Assistant Professor Wright provided us lessons such as creating SMART goals to inspire us to do better. He always told me if I was putting in 100% of the effort in a class, I need to put in 110% and even 120%. In doing so, I never lost sight of what I wanted, which was to get a 4.0 for my first semester.”

Wright leads various activities that directly enhance students’ experiences and positively impact their retention and success.

Making an Impact for the STEM Residential Learning Community

Wright is currently the co-advisor for the STEM Residential Learning Community. He facilitates engineering discussions on the residential side of campus in Hawk Hall, for students interested in STEM, throughout the semester. STEM-C (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Community) students are given the opportunity to meet with industry professionals, and interact with faculty, staff, and other students as part of co-curricular enrichment activities. In this way, first-year students have an advantage by living in the STEM Residential Learning Community. “Wright is extremely hard-working and always puts students first,” says Yincui Li, co-advisor for STEM-C.

Auxiliary Advising Role to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)

Wright considers himself a “He for SWE” or supporter for the organization. He has volunteered his time to lead discussions for the group and learn from them to help support SWE’s mission. Ying Yu, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and faculty advisor for SWE comments: “We discussed how we can proactively improve CETA women students' experience in and outside of the classroom and how we can involve more caring faculty to engage in SWE activities and build allies. The result is that now we have a board of faculty advisors from various departments, including both female and male faculty,” says Yu. “The brainstorming session we had with the SWE eBoard was very effective. Kamau shared his wisdom with the students in a very engaging and approachable way.”

Faculty Advisor for UHart Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)

Wright is a lifetime member of NSBE, which has a mission “to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.” In 2018, Wright was able to stimulate support to take members of the organization to the NSBE annual convention in Pittsburgh, Pa.

This convention made an impact on NSBE UHart students, including Ricky Sullivan ’20, Mechanical Engineering, who mentioned that upon becoming “President of NSBE [at UHart] after the convention, I was able to revive the organization by demonstrating the leadership skills I gained” there. Wright hopes to offer similar opportunities to the newest members of NSBE, as they are poised to attend this year’s 45th Annual Convention in Detroit, Mich., March 27–31, where they can network with executives of all backgrounds and attend workshops and other events to explore their engineering aspirations. NSBE UHart now has dozens of registered and active members. “Wright is very passionate about his students and imparting knowledge to them in many ways so that he can assist them in becoming greater than they are now,” says Shaneice Walker ’20, Mechanical Engineering and NSBE UHart Secretary.

Dedication to Teaching and Engineering Education

Wright teaches various courses, including, but not limited to, required Mechanical Engineering courses, Thermodynamics I and II, Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics–Heat Transfer Lab., Thermal and Mechanical System Design, and a new course being offered in the college, Plasma Engineering I.

His teaching has had quite an impact on students. “I find it difficult to express how fantastic a professor and professional Wright is, inside and outside the classroom. Many of my colleagues can agree, Wright is a very influential, passionate, and knowledgeable professor/professional whom we are lucky to have as a member of our mechanical engineering department,” says Jillian Farrell ’19, Mechanical Engineering.

It is evident he is an outstanding teacher. His reputation precedes him. Feedback on Wright’s teaching reveals that he has dynamic orchestration in the classroom, with his ability to stimulate critical thinking, while scaffolding information so that students have multiple paths to achieving excellence. “He understands every student is unique and some methods of teaching are more effective than others, depending on the student,” says Farrell. “Because of his teaching and passion, I have found a love for mechanical systems and thermodynamic principles, which I can now say I consider pursuing as a career one day.”

Wright says he is committed to lifelong learning and stands by inspiring people who have a thirst for knowledge in engineering and beyond. As an academic advisor, a scholar, an engineering researcher, and an emerging faculty member, he looks forward to continuing to play a role within the CETA community for past, current, and future students.

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Stephanie Fengler