The award recognizes future leaders of higher education

Anahid Ebrahimi, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware, is a recipient of this year’s K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award from the Association of American Colleges & Universities. She is one of seven graduate students nationwide, and the only engineering student, to be named a Cross Scholar this year.

“The K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education; who demonstrate a commitment to developing academic and civic responsibility in themselves and others; and whose work reflects a strong emphasis on teaching and learning,” the Association of American Colleges & Universities said in a statement announcing this year’s award recipients. “The awards honor the work of K. Patricia Cross, Professor Emerita of Higher Education at the University of California-Berkeley.”

Ebrahimi joined UD after earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at the University of California-Davis. A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and a UD Mechanical Engineering Helwig Fellow, Ebrahimi studies biomechanics, particularly the energetics of human gait.

Ebrahimi has worked with Steven Stanhope, professor of kinesiology and applied physiology, on body weight supported treadmill training, particularly to improve mobility in people who have had a leg amputation. She also worked with Jill Higginson, a professor of mechanical engineering at UD, on musculoskeletal modeling techniques.

Through her research activities, Ebrahimi aims to understand compensatory mechanisms in individuals with gait impairment with particular emphasis on implications for prosthetics and orthotics.  She developed a novel Constituent Lower Extremity Work (CLEW) methodology to study lower extremity joint contributions to whole body energetics, and she is using this technique to study the energetics of normal gait, with the ultimate goal of improving the design of lower extremity prosthetic devices. She has presented this work at multiple conferences, including the American Society of Biomechanics, Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society, and the International Society of Biomechanics.

Ebrahimi has also combined research and teaching in a project to assess students’ perception of learning in mechanical engineering curriculum. She presented this work at the 2016 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Mid-Atlantic regional conference.

Teaching is a true passion for Ebrahimi. She has taken courses in student learning and pedagogy through UD’s Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) chapter and is a member of its student leadership board. She has mentored eight undergraduate students in their research projects and lectured in nearly 20 classes and seminars of various disciplines, including engineering, physical therapy, and biomechanics and movement science.

In the fall of 2016, when Higginson wanted to develop a new elective course, she sought Ebrahimi’s help. Together, the two created lecture materials, example problems, homework assignments and team projects for a new elective, Biomechanics of Superheroes, which explores human performance in the context of mechanical concepts such as strength, size, and control. Ebrahimi presented some of these novel lesson plans at the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education national conference.

Ebrahimi is also dedicated to outreach and service activities to educate others about biomechanics and encourage young women to pursue science, technology, and mathematics careers. She co-created a series of educational online videos to introduce biomechanics research and tools at UD with the community. She has worked with high school students and teachers to participate in activities during an annual National Biomechanics Day. She is co-chair of the American Society of Biomechanics advocacy student committee. She is also a program specialist with the Perry Initiative, a non-profit organization that conducts programs to give female high school students engineering experience through mock orthopedic surgeries.

“Ana honestly amazes me with her boundless enthusiasm for biomechanics, which she so eagerly shares with all audiences,” said Higginson.

Ajay Prasad, the chair of UD’s mechanical engineering department, said: “This is a very prestigious national award and could not have happened to a better person. Ana has been an exemplary graduate student in our department, excelling not only in her doctoral research, but also in outreach activities to promote STEM and serving on several important committees. She is passionate and generous with her time to others. We wish her the best as she completes her Ph.D. and moves on to the next challenge!”

Ebrahimi plans to become an academic professor after she graduates from UD.

“I am grateful to Drs. Deborah Allen, Jacqueline Fajardo, and Kevin Guidry for nominating me for this award,” she said. “They have put an immeasurable amount of work into providing exceptional professional development opportunities for graduate students like myself. I am also incredibly thankful for my co-advisors, Drs. Jill Higginson and Steven Stanhope, for supporting and preparing me towards my goals of becoming an academic professor.”

 | Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson | 

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