Retiring NCCHE Founder-Director Sam Wang Reflects Upon 43 Years of Leadership, Service

OXFORD, Miss. – When Sam S.Y. Wang joined the University of Mississippi faculty, it was mainly because of counsel from his dissertation adviser at another institution. Forty-three years later, Wang realizes his stellar career success as a renowned researcher, educator and administrator began with the man who saw the engineer within and lured him here. SKB_0865-D-Wang

“Dr. John A. Fox, who was my Ph.D. research adviser and professor at the University of Rochester, was the key reason why I came to work at Ole Miss,” said Wang, who is the Frederick A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and founder-director of the National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering. He is retiring from his administrative post June 30.

“When I had almost completed my dissertation, Dr. Fox accepted the offer from the UM School of Engineering to become chair of mechanical engineering,” Wang said. “His kind persuasions caused me to rethink my decision to begin working at the Shell Oil Research Corp., in Houston. Instead, I came here as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.”

Wang settled down, worked hard and excelled professionally. The rest, as they say, is history.

“The longer I stayed, the more I liked the working conditions and living environment,” Wang said. “All my co-workers in the engineering school and other offices on campus have provided me with all kinds of assistance. Oxford was also an ideal place to live and raise my children.”

Wang said his work at UM has been satisfying in many respects.

“Efforts in educating the young engineers and promoting their professional development have led to me receiving one of four inaugural F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professorships, which is the highest honor a faculty member can receive,” he said. “I also received the inaugural Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award, Senior Faculty Research Award (twice), the Outstanding Engineering Faculty Award (twice), the Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award from the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics, and the Ralph R. Teetor Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers.”

A pioneer in applying computational modeling methodology to hydroscience research, Wang has gained worldwide recognition. His accolades include the Hans Albert Einstein Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Qian Lin Prize from the World Association for Sedimentation and Erosion Research, the two highest international honors given for soil erosion and sediment transport research.

Wang said he considers the establishment of NCCHE as one of his most important career achievements. Started in 1983 with a single investigator and few sponsoring institutions, the center has gradually grown into an institution of national and international prominence.

“The computational models simulating the environmental, water resources and soil conservation phenomena of our contemporary society have been utilized by thousands of professionals in institutions worldwide,” Wang said.

For example, NCCHE’s flood prediction modeling has been used to create emergency management plans to reduce damage to a water supply system during a disastrous flood. Similarly, soil erosion and sediment transport models are used to design erosion control structures to conserve topsoils and protect water resources from excessive pollution by sediments and contaminants, Wang said.

Another of Wang’s professional milestones was chairing the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Task Committee on Three-Dimensional Free Surface Flow Model Verification and Validation. The committee, which included 15 experts from six nations in hydraulic modeling research, produced a 500-page monograph, of which Wang was the principal editor.

Longtime colleagues and associates said working with Wang has been rewarding.

“Dr. Wang has remained always close to NCCHE personnel,” said Mustafa Altinakar, the center’s associate director and research professor. “His door is always open to all, and he is always eager to help in any way he can.”

Altinakar also credits Wang with being a visionary in his field.

“Prof. Wang has probably foresaw earlier than anybody else the potential of computational hydroscience and engineering,” Altinakar said. “It was Dr. Wang’s vision that created NCCHE as a place where not only the state-of-the-art models are created, but also continuously refined and maintained. The NCCHE models, employed over a long span of time by a multitude of users with a wide range of problems, are among the best.”

“Dr. Wang treats me as if I am a colleague,” said Janice Crow, NCCHE administrative coordinator. “I have been very appreciative that my boss would think enough of my opinion. He has always treated me with respect and I can truthfully call him my friend. He will be truly missed.”

Chancellor Dan Jones described Wang as “a respected leader in his discipline and within our academic community. He has an impressive record of peer-reviewed, original research publications, a long and consistent track record of superb grantsmanship and a strong commitment to education.”

Alice Clark, vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs, said she has seen the prominent role Wang has played and the achievement the NCCHE has made through his leadership.

“In addition to being internationally revered and respected in his discipline, Dr. Wang is equally well-regarded for his kindness and consideration of his colleagues,” she said. “Our research community has certainly benefitted from the enormous impact of his leadership, scholarship and mentorship.”

Wang’s former students credit him with encouraging them to reach their full potential.

“Even after I graduated from Ole Miss, I always consult my former adviser, Dr. Wang, for suggestions and advice on my career development,” said Jennifer Duan, assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Arizona. “Because of Dr. Wang’s reputation in computational hydraulics, I was selected from among 90 applicants as a tenure-track faculty member at UA, a top-ranking public school in the U.S.”

Wang said he has enjoyed his work, but believes that it is time to pass the baton to someone else.

After June 30, Wang said he plans to rest but later return to work as a half-time employee. His focus will be on his latest research project, which he hopes to complete within the next year or two.

“Then I will ‘retire’ again – this time completely – so that I can devote my time to authoring a few articles at a leisurely pace while touring the world’s rivers to gain additional inspirations in hydroscience,” he said.

Wang said he is grateful that Fox wooed him to Ole Miss.

“I constantly feel that I have been the luckiest person in this world to have been supported by all the people around me,” Wang said. “Most of all, I am the luckiest person because of my family and especially my beloved wife, Jine, who has given me her understanding and the strongest support for almost 50 years. Without all of these, I couldn’t possibly have accomplished what I have done.”

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