By Kel Hahn
As a research scientist with a Dana Corporation, an automotive company, Y. Charles Lu designed plastic and composite components for engine applications. Excellent at his job, Lu won several technical achievement awards from Dana.
But there was a problem.
“I felt like working in industry and helping companies make money didn’t give me a sense of great worth,” Lu recalls.
While working for Dana, Lu became aware of the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Extended Campus at Paducah. Hoping to contribute his skills toward new ends, he joined the faculty in 2006. Today, Lu is the H.E. Katterjohn Professor of Mechanical Engineering.
“I had always wanted to work with students and see them grow. When they graduate, I have a great sense of reward,” he says.
In addition to advising Ph.D. and M.S. students in Lexington, Lu leads a robust research group in Paducah, usually employing five or six undergraduate students at a time. Although UK Paducah does not offer graduate programs, Lu has supervised numerous students who earned their undergraduate degrees in Paducah and went on to graduate studies in Lexington.
Jordan Garcia, who worked in Lu’s lab for over two years, will begin a master’s program in mechanical engineering on UK’s main campus this fall.
“Over the years, I have tried to recruit local students and help them get into graduate school,” Lu explains. “Jordan was able to present at a number of conferences, including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.”
Garcia says that when he enrolled at UK Paducah, graduate school was the furthest thing from his mind. That changed once he began working in Lu’s research group.
“Dr. Lu played a big role in me deciding to go to graduate school,” Garcia affirms. “I started working with carbon nanotubes and really liked it. This past year we did work involving 3D printing. Eventually I figured that I wanted to work in research for the rest of my life.”
A member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for over 20 years, and winner of the2017 SAE International Excellence in Engineering Education Award, Lu is the ideal faculty advisor for UK Paducah’s SAE Baja Car Team. He says the key to his involvement is that he doesn’t see the Baja Car Team as just another club.
“I treat them as my research assistants. I make sure there is a lot of interaction between me and the team, and I travel with them to most competitions.”
One of the longest-tenured professors at UK Paducah, Lu sees nothing but advantages to serving right where he is.
“Sometimes people think there is less opportunity or fewer resources at a satellite campus. I think it’s the opposite. Here, I have more opportunities to engage in research, teaching and service. I never feel like we’re limited.”