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Focus on Faculty: Jason Christian

Jason Christian, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, gives his students experiential learning experiences that also address infrastructure needs in communities across Georgia.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas A&M University in 1990 and 1994, and a Ph.D. from Rice University in 2012. Currently I am an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and teach classes in spatial analysis, engineering economics, hydrology and hydraulics, and senior design capstone.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I started work here in the summer of 2012, and this represented a significant mid-life career change for me. Previously I worked for more than 20 years as a practicing civil engineer, and for most of that time was president of my own engineering firm. Life circumstances changed around 2009 and opened new opportunities for me to return to academia-which I eagerly accepted. Copious amounts of hard work and good fortune led me here to Georgia.

What are your favorite courses and why?

My favorite class to teach is our engineering capstone class. This yearlong course requires our students to synthesize information from years of undergraduate classes into the completion of a single engineering design project. They also learn about the professional workplace, engineering ethics, their individual leadership style, and other nuances of engineering practice. This course is fun to teach because there is so much two-way interaction with the students, every year has different projects with unique design challenges, and every class has its own personality. This course helps our students leave campus well prepared to be effective, productive, confident, competent and - most importantly - happy in their emerging careers.

What interests you about your field?

I describe myself as a "water engineer." I have always been fascinated by how water behaves. As a child, I was captivated by how it swirls around the tub drain, and I find the repetitive crashing of waves onto the beach to be soothing and hypnotic. Through my engineering studies, I found that the mathematical equations describing fluid movement are just as elegant and beautiful as the natural processes they describe (nerdy, yes - but true nonetheless). Because of my research I see how much of our world behaves with fluid properties. I imagine the flow of currency through the economy or the motion of bee swarms in flight. Wherever I look I see fluid mechanics in nature and can draw insightful conclusions and build useful mathematical models of these processes because of my original fascination with water.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Since arriving at UGA, I have been a co-recipient of the College of Engineering's 2015 Lowry Gillespie, Jr. Curriculum Enhancement Award (shared with Stephan Durham for our innovative work with the engineering capstone class). The following year I was honored by the Georgia Engineering Alliance as the 2016 Georgia Engineer of the Year in Education. Also in 2016, I was elected to be a Fellow in the American Society of Civil Engineers. While awards and recognition are nice, I have to say the true highlights come from seeing my students graduate and officially start their lives as productive members of society.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

My research is highly interdisciplinary, and recent projects have been with collaborators outside of the engineering domain (i.e., ecology and geography) working with funding partners that do not exclusively work with engineers (U.S. Forest Service and Wormsloe Institute). This experience gives me an understanding that solutions to big problems are not exclusively in the domain of engineering and that an interdisciplinary approach is required to tackle the most interesting and critical social problems of today. I bring this perspective to the classroom by encouraging students to be inclusive of other perspectives and counseling them that the best technical solution to a problem may not be the most feasible solution.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I truly hope that my students develop a healthy work ethic, a sense of personal empowerment (and not entitlement), and a self-awareness of their capabilities - including both their strengths and limitations. I try to encourage my students by challenging them intellectually, treating them like adults, and holding them accountable for their actions. Although I do expect a lot from my students, they rarely disappoint me.

Describe your ideal student.

This is not a cop-out answer to this question, but all my students are ideal! Each brings their own personality, perspective, experiences and ideas to the classroom. Some have to work harder than others, some are louder than others, some are more challenging to motivate than others, but all are delightfully unique and a joy to know.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is...

Football Saturday in Sanford Stadium! Sic'em Dawgs!!

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to...

I love music festivals (Wildwood, Middle of Nowhere), local bands and arts and crafts fairs (too many to list). Athens and the surrounding areas have a great culture of and diversity in arts, which makes living here a great pleasure.

Community/civic involvement includes....

I am an active member of a local Christian church and find a great sense of personal balance participating in community workday efforts at local medical clinics and food shelters. For the past three summers I have engaged in weeklong mission trips serving families in rural parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. I also have a unique opportunity to help Georgia communities through our engineering capstone class. The College of Engineering collaborates with UGA's Archway Partnership to identify infrastructure problems in communities all across Georgia, and our engineering students address these problems through their capstone projects. This partnership helps meet the needs of Georgia communities while our talented students get the experience of performing engineering designs to solve specific local infrastructure problems.

Proudest moment at UGA?

My proudest moments come from meeting the parents and extended families of our graduating students. While I cannot claim much credit for the exceptional young men and women we graduate, I do share the pride these families feel as they celebrate their student's great accomplishments. I will also admit that I eagerly await the opportunity to watch my own beautiful daughter, Madison, accept her diploma from UGA (go Maddy!).

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Being a part of the faculty at UGA is a dream job for me. I find great satisfaction from mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students as they develop their technical skills, creativity and personal ambitions in pursuit of lifelong and productive careers in engineering. I cannot imagine a better achievement than helping the next generation of Georgia engineers find confidence in their ability, strength in their character, and the drive to make a difference in the world. UGA students are truly exceptional, and I have every confidence that our future society is in very good hands.

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