Ella Atkins Named Head of Kevin T. Crofton's Department of Aerospace and Oceanic Engineering |  VTx

Ella Atkins Named Head of Kevin T. Crofton’s Department of Aerospace and Oceanic Engineering | VTx

Ella Atkins was appointed head of Kevin T. Crofton’s Department of Aerospace and Oceanic Engineering at the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, starting August 1.

Atkins currently holds the position of professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, where she directs the Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab and was associate director of the university’s Robotics Institute until 2020. Most recently, during a short tenure at university, she spent a year as a technical fellow at Collins Aerospace, gaining industry research and development experience while offering expertise in aerospace artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Not only does Ella join us from one of the best aerospace engineering programs in the country, but she also brings tremendous experience in working with partnerships and transdisciplinary programs,” said Julia M. Ross, Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “In particular, her emphasis on autonomous systems and the integration of computing applications in the challenges of aerospace research and robotics will be great assets to continue the positive momentum of the department.”

As an academic researcher, Atkins focused on perception, decision making and control algorithms to improve the performance and safety of unmanned aircraft systems and advanced air mobility operations. With autonomous systems and artificial intelligence increasingly applied to both aeronautics and space engineering applications, Atkins envisions a wide range of new opportunities to inform and leverage cloud-based data, real-time perception, and infrastructure. data that can be explained to support an optimal decision-making process with a long duration mission autonomy and for collaborative man-machine systems.

She has been an integral partner in building the University of Michigan robotics program from the ground up, serving on the initial steering committee and participating in its growth into an institute, as well as its pending transition into a full department this fall. She is proud of the lasting impact this vibrant and thriving program will have on future generations of engineers, which is supported and led by a diverse group of robotics instructors at all levels.

Atkins was drawn to Virginia Tech’s aerospace and ocean engineering program because she sees an established, high-quality program full of potential to expand into new areas of research. With a number of capital projects on the horizon, including plans for the long-awaited engineering showcase building Mitchell Hall and the development of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area, Atkins believes the department is positioned to build and expand into new and strategic thrust areas, attracting both new faculty and potential undergraduate and graduate students.

“This is a pivotal time, as the department is poised for dramatic growth and has the potential to become an even greater center of academic excellence,” said Atkins. “Enrollment and student demand for the program are high and there is a lot of excitement about investing in new teaching and research facilities both in Blacksburg and in close proximity to government agencies. I am also excited about the opportunity to collaborate and strengthen existing partnerships on campus with the National Security Institute serving national security and defense needs and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in support of security and policy operations in autonomous and cyber systems. physical.

Atkins previously collaborated with the Virginia Tech faculty through his involvement in the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a multi-university industrial / university cooperative research center sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She is excited about the prospect of using Virginia Tech facilities, such as the Drone Park Networked Facility and Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems Laboratory hangar and airstrip, and keen to collaborate with multidisciplinary research groups, such as the Center for Marine Autonomy and Robotics.

Recent Atkins-led research includes studying airspace geofencing for safety and traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems, mapping a smart services system for low-flying airspace traffic management, and cyber-physical communication for human-robot cooperative mobility. He also has experience with marine robotics, having previously developed a solar-powered autonomous seaplane called the Flying Fish that takes off and lands on water, the first boat of its kind.

Atkins has published more than 250 articles and recommended more than 25 graduate students. students. He has received numerous awards for his research and leadership, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Intelligent Systems Award in 2022, the University of Michigan Robotics Leadership Award in 2020, and the Inaugural President’s Award for National and State Leadership at the ‘University of Michigan in 2017.

Committed to diversity and inclusion, Atkins previously served on the Executive Committee of the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, supporting training on unconscious bias and events aimed at breaking down barriers between students, staff and faculty. She has participated in national conference recruiting efforts for the Society for Women Engineers and has mentored PhD students under the Rackham Merit Fellowship program of Michigan.

Atkins succeeds Eric Paterson, who has led the department since 2012 and was named executive director of the new Virginia Tech National Security Institute in late 2021. During his nine years at the helm, the department has seen significant and unprecedented growth in terms of application and enrollment of students numbers and growth in the number of teachers, expenses and funding for research and through the expansion and development of research and education facilities.

Additionally, under his leadership, the department became the world’s first named and gifted aerospace engineering or ocean engineering department, thanks to the generous $ 14 million pledge of 1982 student Kevin T. Crofton in 2016.

Since Paterson’s departure, Professor Robert Canfield has served as interim head of department. “We appreciate Bob’s leadership over the past year during this transition period and he has positioned the department well and his plans for Ella’s arrival,” said Ross.

Originally from West Virginia, Atkins earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a master’s and Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. He previously worked in the aerospace industry as a structural dynamics engineer before earning his Ph.D. and later served on the faculty of the aerospace engineering department at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan.

Atkins has been active in the professional community, serving as a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and through leadership in technical committees, conference organization, and currently as chief editor of the AIAA Journal of Aerospace Information Systems.

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