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Creating a First Impression

Swanson School appoints Irene Mena as Director of the First-Year Engineering Program

PITTSBURGH (August 14, 2018) … Irene B. Mena, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, has been named Director of the Swanson School’s First-Year Engineering Program.

Dr. Mena will be responsible for implementing first year curriculum content, pedagogy, and improvements; coordinating Swanson School faculty teaching in the program, as well as faculty from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry; and management of the first year seminar. Mena will also direct the Swanson School’s annual First-Year Conference, in which all engineering first-years develop a professional-level research paper and present it to their peers at the end of the spring semester.

She succeeds Daniel Budny, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, who retired from the position after 18 years.

“Irene’s passion for engineering education as well as her experience in developing and teaching first-year curriculum content made for a perfect fit,” noted Mary Besterfield-Sacre, the Swanson School’s associate dean for academic affairs and the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of industrial engineering. “Most importantly, she understands the importance of integrating design projects and new teaching methods in the first-year program. These paradigms are important to address both the way the next generation of students integrate technology and learning, and how their progress to senior year better prepares them for careers in industry or academia.”

Besterfield-Sacre added, “I especially want to thank Dan Budny for his nearly two decades of dedication to the first-year engineering program and for developing the First-Year Conference in partnership with the University’s Writing Center. He instilled a passion for learning and for the University in thousands of engineering students.”

“I love being part of Pitt’s first-year engineering program, and am very excited to take on this new role,” Mena added.

Mena earned a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and master’s in industrial engineering and PhD in engineering education from Purdue University. Prior to joining Pitt in 2015, she was an instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and The Pennsylvania State University. At Purdue she developed Model-Eliciting Activities, which are open-ended problems that challenge students to build models in order to solve complex, real-world problems. At Penn State and later at Pitt, her research focused on the experiences of first-year engineering students, specifically related to perceptions of and preparation for professional skills such as communication and creativity, as well as academic integrity and time management.

She has published in several journals, has reviewed for the Journal of Engineering Education, and has presented frequently at the American Society for Engineering Education’s annual Conference and Expo, for which she also serves as a reviewer. She currently volunteers as advisor for Community-Based Research Fellowships at Pitt, and as faculty advisor for the Swanson School’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers


Contact: Paul Kovach