- Synopsis: Introduction, Dealing with the Concept of Race in AmericaKeywords: Abada; Iran; United States; America, race; Caucasian; Iranian; status; post-colonialism; western culture; NIU; University of Oklahoma; ImmigrationTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: My name is Jeremiah Moore-Moauro I am here today at the DeKalb Public Library located in DeKalb, Illinois with Dr. Mansour Tehernezhadi who is participating in the 125th Anniversary Oral History Project for Northern Illinois University. Thank you, Dr. Mansour Tehernezhadi for being with us today. Please introduce yourself by saying a bit about where you grew up and your life before coming to NIU [Northern Illinois University]?
TEHERNEZHADI: Very good question. Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity of being here today. I was born in Abada, Iran and so basically, I did my education as far as the elementary and secondary education in Iran and then I came to United States, did my BS [Bachelors of Science] degree in electrical engineering from University of Oklahoma, as well as PhD [Doctor of Philosophy] in electrical engineering from University of Oklahoma with a specialization in digital communication and signal processing.
MOORE-MOAURO: What year did you come to the United States?
MOORE-MOAURO: And if I may also ask, what year were you born?
TEHERNEZHADI: uh, sixty one.
MOORE-MOAURO: 1961, can you talk a bit about the experience of coming to the United States from Iran?
TEHERNEZHADI: Hmm, very, um, I'm not sure what the relevance of that experience is to the one hundred twenty five year anniversary, but I was trying to basically keep in that context, but I think you know um, to a large extent, we are shaped by our experiences, and I cherish my experiences. Coming to United States from Iran, I think I had fair share of trials and tribulations in terms of educational system as well as being exposed to values, a wide spectrum of socio-economic status in Iran, which kind of enabled me to develop a deeper appreciation for human struggle, ok, and then coming to the United States, I got to get exposed to racial inequalities that I wasn't accustomed to, as well as for instance, color scheme being an issue and so forth, that it was foreign to me. As a matter of fact, when I was in Iran, I was in the fifth grade, I had African-Iranian teacher and I was never cognizant of color with the skin and then when I came to this country, I got exposed to race, you got fit this form. You're white skin, or you're Caucasian or you are African-American, Asian. So basically that really brought my antennas up, what's going on here? To this day, I'm kind of struggling with the concept of race and why do we have it in this country?
MOORE-MOAURO: So, it's much more prominent here in the United States than in Iran, is what I understand?
TEHERNEZHADI: Absolutely, there is no such thing as-- You have cultural biases, but nothing racial. People may discriminate against you based on your, I would say, socioeconomic status, your cultural, the Qur'an or your demeanor, things like that, but not necessarily because you have whiter skin or darker skin or your eyes look different, you look Asian or something like that. You don’t have that, that was from my vantage point as a child and I came here as a teenager, and so that was a struggle. Basically, I would say it's a daily struggle for me to come to grip as why we haven't been able to transcend as a society and becoming somewhat insensitive to these type of issues. Maybe it has to do with the history of this country, maybe history of colonialism, ya know, both the French, British, Belgium, and American side. Maybe that's something that's more deeply anchored within, I would say, post-colonialism, Western culture, which probably my particular land was probably somewhat protected from it and so I guess to a large extent, those type of issues are still going on and maybe perhaps as we become more and more advanced in scientific thinking and disciplinary exploration of our existence, we basically will be able to put these things to rest. I think that would be the pathway forward, in my opinion.
- Synopsis: Thoughts on Diversity at NIU, and in America at LargeKeywords: cultural awareness; skin color; religion; race; culture; socioeconomic status; Naperville North School; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: I'd like to follow this theme a little bit more than skip ahead a few questions to one that deals with this topic. In recent years, NIU has become much more racially, religiously, and economically diverse in both the student and faculty bodies. Has this impacted the way the Engineering Department operates? Has this changed the way that you operate in your position?
TEHERNEZHADI: Not really, I mean I, to me, for us to say, "Okay, you have this level of awareness--" First of all, we should not even be there to begin with. Whenever I think about it, again, has to do with my background, that I wasn't accustomed to these things, and all of a sudden, I'm being placed in an environment which desensitized to this type of differences or issues. I don't need any training as such, because even from a scientific point of view, as scientists we’re trained not to think that way. Basically for me, at times, it comes as too contrived. People trying to force themselves to become something, probably they put a veneer on but God knows what lies behind that veneer. Why should we have training for training another human being as equal to us? To value people for what they bring to the table as opposed how they look like or what’s the color of their skin or what’s their socioeconomic background and things of that sort? If you really need training for that, I don't know how successful we’re going to be. I think we need people to gain profound scientific understanding that we're all the same. Just like you buy a Mac Book, you buy a PC, you're still doing competition. You cannot judge a book by its title or how it looks like, you've got to look at the content. I even tell my students, this is a very competitive workplace and even if we have been visited from outer space, coming from Mars, let's say, just make it, if they're better than us, we give the job to them. This is all up to who can do a better job as opposed to how they look like or whatever they look like. We should look at the intellectual capital that they bring to the table and you cannot basically judge one's intellectual capital by one’s look. Looks are very deceiving. As a matter of fact, I woke up this morning and they had The Today Show on and they had where there was an episode of Twilight Zone, The Beholder, probably, that was the name of it and it basically kind of rang a bell, that was back in the sixties. Even my kids, you would think that, I live in Naperville. They go to Naperville North, my kid my 15-year old comes home and said, “I'm brown skin.” There you took a dagger, put it in my heart. I cannot escape it. You have a kid who's been told by her white friends, whiter color skin, that she's brown. She’s referred to as a brown, and we are what? 2019.
MOORE-MOAURO: That's true.
TEHERNEZHADI: I did not grow up with those things. Every morning I wake up, I say, "Thank you." That was part of my upbringing. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but at least I had idealistic value sets that were not marred by this intrusion of societal norms on them. Now look at my kid, she's smart, or my son, for no reason. So that means, even though we're doing in all these trainings at the organizational level, which has been going on for many, many years and still in the households, things are going on for it to culminate in a school environment for kids to call themselves by different colors or their racial lookalikes as opposed to what this kid can do so when is it going to end? Where are we going to catapult ourselves out of this realm of first order thinking or how you look like or who you are, how you dress, or whatever, where is it going to end?
- Synopsis: Building a Culture of Diversity at NIUKeywords: Associate Dean; College of Engineering; France; race; racially; Civil War; students; ACT; religion; strategic objectivity; sub-human; egalitarian; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Your position at the university, which is?
TEHERNEZHADI: I'm the Senior Associate Dean for the College of Engineering.
MOORE-MOAURO: You are in a position where you are, and correct me if I'm wrong, exposed to these university training exercises, have to be conscious of them and are in a way critiquing them. Is it correct for me to say that really this awareness needs to begin at home like you said?
MOORE-MOAURO: What more can the university do, in your opinion, to help mitigate this problem?
TEHERNEZHADI: I think they probably have to learn from our European counterparts. I visited France, I see far more racial, social integration than what we have here. I don't how successful they've been, but probably they pushed early on their history, they gave significant push-back to this type of racial inequalities. I think they were probably far ahead in their game. We had segregation until what, 1960s, the Civil War Movement, why? You got the emancipation proclamation back in the late 1800s, so why are we here at this juncture? Why do we have this predilection towards race? Why are we obsessed with it? To the point that my kids have to be exposed to it.
MOORE-MOAURO: Have students in the Engineering Department discussed this with you?
TEHERNEZHADI: Well, not directly, but you know, I can sense it, you can't escape it. I feedback, they have to change the environment and I really don't know what it takes. Maybe more and more inclusion and more and more scientific appreciation that, "Hey, we are the same people." Look at our genetic make up. Wake up, it's not scientifically established the way you guys are thinking. It's emotionally driven, it doesn't have any scientific objectivity to it. I think science is going to be the pathway forward for us to truly put these things to rest, but it's going to take, we need to have more and more people participating in this scientific level of cognizance of looking at things. Right now people are participating in science to get a skill set to get a job, and that's it. They do not have profound appreciation for what science is trying to do for the society and for our cultural values. It used to be that, we get out cultural anchorship from our religion, from our traditions, but now because of the scientific discoveries, inventions, science is going to establish also new pathways towards new social and cultural norms. We're going to get there and I think that's the way it's going to become. We need to have more and more people to become more and more in tune with scientific objectivity mind set not as opposed to have, "Oh, I'm taking my ACT [American College Testing], which one is the best choice?" what exactly that means. That's what is going to happen, science at its core is kind and through that, we should be able to reestablish an egalitarian racially insensitive society. I think these trainings, they are what they are, they do, these are organizational we cannot change people, people have to fundamentally change, and no matter how much of training you do for them. It takes time.
MOORE-MOAURO: Do you believe there's any way for the Engineering Department to contribute to this change on at least campus?
TEHERNEZHADI: I think, like anything else in life, it's an exponential process. It has its own time constant. I think through discoveries, because engineering at the end of the day puts scientific discoveries to work, to life. It gives them life and you come up with, let's say, new understanding at the molecular scale, then you build sensors out of it, right? Then that would basically enable people to be able to have more control over their lives, right? How we communicate, for instance, or how we are being, not as much dependent on the infrastructure, we're giving more and more power back to the people. That's what science is doing. There's a built in republic in science itself. As a result of those, we should be able to have a new world where it's driven by scientific objectivity. There are two types of, I would say, approaches in life. One would be called organic growth and the other one is strategic growth. So I think to a large extent, the problems that you are experiencing and this level of vastly different cultures, vastly different religions that we have. Traditions are mostly driven by the organic growth people in a certain part of the world, organically they created what they have in terms of the cultural norms right, and so forth. Then we have the strategic objectivity growth and that's going to be empowered by science. Basically, that's what we need to do as leaders, as educational leaders, we need to basically become more and more possessive of this strategic vision that we want to advance. Hopefully, that in turn would dilute these gravitational forces that are in play to basically bring about this organic type of growth that they are experiencing. A lot of issues that we have in this country has to do with the organic make up of different sectors within in the country. People wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle at the expense of others, and still it's going on. Science is trying to basically put a dent in this state of affairs. It's not sustainable. It's bad for the planet, we need to become more and more cognoscente. I was watching program, was it Nova, last night and basically they had a photo of the planet from a space station, 2016, 2017, 2018, basically, they were judging the health of the planet from the color of the photos. It was very alarming. It really boils down to our survival and if we do not gain those strategic objectivities, we are going to be in deep, deep trouble even in terms of survival in this planet. People think, well, we can build the walls, and that's not going to be also an answer. Maybe a short term panacea, just because we have the power we could do it, but it doesn't mean that's the right thing to do. Again, we need to appreciate the fact that this planet does not belong to any particular country, any particular race. It's for all the living, everything, the birds, the trees, now the trees are being decimated, the bees, imagine if there are no bees, there'd be no food for us to eat. It's all a very integrated, cohesive ecosystem and the health of that ecosystem is being undermined. This racial turbulences that we’re experiencing, the racial discourse is just another jolt or disruption to this otherwise healthy ecosystem. You have to look at it from an ecosystem point of view as well. I think science is trying to bring some semblance of balance among these competing forces that they have put in place as humans and give it some objectivity. You guys don't have to do this. You don't have to be always operating this survival listing mode for one reason or another. There are better pathways forward. We have seven and a half billion people on this planet, how are we going to manage our human resources? Of course, one group said, one idea is depopulation. Look what's happening in Syria right now. Why, why those things are happening, what's happening in Iran, or Yemen and then we become numb to it. Their basically, they're sub-humans, their lives don't count.
- Synopsis: Interdisciplinary Approach to Inequality and Resource ManagementKeywords: Mechanical Engineering; sociology; Halloween; happy; sad; emotions; natural resources; endangered species; divinity; God; science; interdisciplinary; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Is NIU part of this pathway forward?
TEHERNEZHADI: I think so.
MOORE-MOAURO: How? I think by more and more disciplinary collaboration among scientists. I have a faculty in mechanical engineering who basically, he comes from robotics. He’s basically trying to use robotics control in order to attenuate fear among crowds. If you can basically imbue this robots with human-like fear and then have this robotic swarm, and then we can come up with the control algorithms as to how to attenuate fear. Basically, in order for him to do that, he needs to learn about psychology or learn about sociology. Today is Halloween, people are just, they have this propensity to become scared from one way or another. That basically enabled us to gain a much deeper insight into the human psyche, to control certain, levels of our emotions, how to attenuate it, maybe you could have better, you know, let’s say I fast forward fifty years from now, us wearing these clothes, where you basically wear a body suit, which has all different kinds of sensors. If I'm getting unhappy, the sensor would get that and then probably, it would probably send some, let’s say, sound waves or electromagnetic waves to get me out of that mode. That basically means that you need to have much deeper appreciation for interdisciplinary confluence of all these sciences coming together. I think is that the interface of sciences where we can come up with the new ways of appreciating our role in this life and how we can basically make it better for all living beings on this planet. Have appreciation of everybody, everyone, not only from human side, but from the trees, from the animals, the sea beings and so forth. We cannot discount because if we have one endangered species, it's going to basically disrupt the entire harmony of the ecosystem that we have in place. Basically, the things that we're observing, maybe they’re motivation for us to learn but sometimes the price to pay is too high. Why should we have? You’re historian, and then why should we have this unending archives on slavery or segregation, Civil War movement for us it's a learning experience. You learn from that, but why should we pay that high price? You could have learned something else in this day. I guess maybe, it's a course of history that we need to go through. We need to get a better handle on our social as well as logical, rational constructs, and maybe that's the price we have to pay. If I step back and take a look at it. I think interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists is going to provide us with a wealth of data. Now we're in the age of data sciences, sensors and I think engineering and sciences are going to become more and more working close together. I'm very optimistic about the future nonetheless, I think if you can maintain this scientific journey, and science wants to continue, science has its own life, science has its own level of consciousness that's beyond us. There is a Persian poet, basically who says that not only this beautiful clothes that we wear, that would be an emblem of our humanity, we evolved so much in our intellect, in our scientific intellect, that basically come face to face with God. Basically, the pathway even to divinity, to a large extent, is going to be empowered through this scientific inquiry. It's not just something that we do to build better devices or better homes, better facilities, better technologies. It's really going to change how we transact with each other. It's going to provide us with much more solid platform of rational discourse for us to transact with our world with each other, with our planet. People cannot get away with murder, there's a built in republican science, and basically we’re going to be holding our political officials or leaders more accountable because that's the only way. Sooner or later, we are going to be running out of resources, we cannot just say there's going to be an endless supply of natural resources, they're going to be endless supply of food and now you got snow on this day. This is unheard of, we are undergoing a climate change, but what are the casualties as a result of this climate change in terms of, this is going to instigate more and more endangered species.
MOORE-MOAURO: Just for some context to that part of your comment on this day, October 31st, 2019, in DeKalb, Illinois, we have three inches of snow on the ground.
TEHERNEZHADI: That's right.
- Synopsis: NIU’s Interdisciplinary Approach and its Contribution to Global IssuesKeywords: Global approach; interdisciplinary; Senior Associate Dean; College of Electrical Engineering; department; civil; environmental; geography; geo-sciences; God; collaboration; graduate research NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Hence the observation that you've made. Now, I'd like to bring this back to NIU but follow the interdisciplinary point that you made earlier. Can you describe your role as a Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Electrical Engineering Department and then what capacity that you work with individual professors on campus or other departments?
TEHERNEZHADI: Basically, as a Senior Associate Dean, I get to be involved with research and graduate programs. As a result of that, I try to bring about connections with our professors, not only within universities but also outside university with our national labs with our a strong industrial base in Illinois, we have about seventeen thousand manufacturers and they're always in need of scientific engineering talent. I also try to put our professors, encouraging programs that would bring professors together. For instance, as we speak we’re trying to establish Civil and Environmental Engineering and because of that, I put together a task force consisting of faculty members from our Geological Sciences, Geography, Electrical engineering, Mechanical, Technology, College of Health and Human Sciences to come up with this new degree program. Then, people say, “Well, this new degree program's for students" but above all, students coming to this new degree program, they're going to be exposed to interdisciplinary cadre of faculty--
MOORE-MOAURO: What's the name of that degree program?
TEHERNEZHADI: Civil and Environmental Engineering.
MOORE-MOAURO: Civil and Environmental Engineering. Thank you.
TEHERNEZHADI: Basically, we are hopeful that as a result of this new degree program, we would encourage more and more interdisciplinary collaboration between our faculty member in Geography or Geological Sciences, Mechanical engineering, Civil engineering, because again, teams are highly interconnected. Long gone are the days, those days where you could just say, “Okay, can we get this problem in isolation?" Even if you come up with a solution of the problem in isolation, you put that problem in the environment, is going to ooze side effects. As part of engineering and scientific training, we need to become more and more cognizant and predictive and gain more predictive power as what would be the side effect when we unleash these new inventions and new discoveries into the environment, right? Can we be ahead of the game because we've been really operating always being behind? We have a major magnitude of lag, ok, sometimes it has extremely dire social consequences, extremely dire environmental consequences. How can we give pushback by encouraging more and more interdiscipline, like we have a civil engineer, I was watching a program last night that they showed Tokyo with thirty eight million people and from Earth, you look it from space and it's just concrete. That concrete happened at the expense of trees going away, right? That means we've been not really doing a good job. As environmental engineers we're not working with our biology, is we're not working with our zoologist or and climatologist to see what would be the end game. These scientific journeys started after renaissance. We're still at infancy stages, but it's multiplying. Science wants to grow. It has this voracious appetite. The reason that people collaborate is not because they want to collaborate but there is a higher level of consciousness behind it. You may say, it's God you may say it's supernatural, but science has all those things built-in into it. It wants to invite more and more people to participate alright. I think that's the only way that we can survive. Maybe it's for the survival of matter itself who knows?
MOORE-MOAURO: Maybe. Does your department have an acute global awareness of how NIU's scientific programs should be shaped in a global context?
TEHERNEZHADI: I think that we're getting there but we still do not have, I would say, a well-defined cohesive picture as to how it should look like. You talk to different people, they give you a different picture as what it is because every person has a different level of observation. Some people have thirty thousand foot observation and some people only have one thousand foot observation, some people are so anchored into their own field that they cannot see beyond their nose. We're trying to basically provide avenues of engagement and then bring them to a higher level of cognizance in terms of interdisciplinary collaborations. When I get the podium I tell my faculty members, "Always collaborate. Reach out to your counterparts, faculty members in sociology, geography, geology, physics, chemistry, biology." It's happening but we need to fasten the pace of these collaborations I tell them it's a heavy lifting if you want to do everything by yourself in your own discipline, it's going to be extremely difficult but if you have more collaboration, you can distribute the load and then you can basically ease the process in terms of going down this path of scientific inquiry.
MOORE-MOAURO: How many years have you been at NIU as the Senior Associate Dean?
TEHERNEZHADI: Well, 2016.
MOORE-MOAURO: 2016. Two years, I’m sorry, three years.
TEHERNEZHADI: Three years.
MOORE-MOAURO: It would be three years now, yes. When you first came to NIU then has this message that you just described changed in three years? Where did it develop in the context of NIU or did you bring it with you?
TEHERNEZHADI: Well, I've been at NIU since 1991.
TEHERNEZHADI: I came here as an assistant professor after I graduated from University of Oklahoma with my PhD. Again, I've always been an idealist in life and because of that appetite towards achieving a higher level of idealism, you have to become interdisciplinary. You have to become more and more cognizant of other dimensions that may not be as obviously sensed by our senses, right? I think that really helped me quite a bit because it was an easy sell, you may say, right? Then I think the love for exploration enabled me to get a leadership role in the university. I became actually the General Associate Dean back in 2003 and then in 2010, I became associate for graduate research programs and then in 2006, I became the Senior Associate Dean for research in graduate programs.
- Synopsis: Passion and Ethics in EngineeringKeywords: administration; federal government; engineering; science; ethics; ethical; student; passion; congress; NIU; federal government; science;Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: How has your interaction with students changed since 1991?
TEHERNEZHADI: Not much really.
TEHERNEZHADI: I still maintain teaching, a lot of administrators, they remove themselves from the classroom. I thrive in the classroom. I just love it. Because I talk about something in my field and all of a sudden I bring the social-environmental implication of one particular equation. That really gets to motivate my growth intellectually the classroom environment itself because you don't know based on the interaction with the students they do not understand one particular concept, they ask a question or in turn I put a question to them and sort through these endless cycle of questioning and answering. I tend to basically change the way I think and I view the world. I think that's very encouraging. It's a feeding frenzy in terms of keep on expanding and having the appetite to expand and then you just love for going to a higher level of intellectual capacity and consciousness. That's basically what I tell my students, do not get to engineering because you want to have a good job, that should be secondary. There should be this endless passion for whatever, really, just follow your passion. I think if you're passionate you can do well in any field, history, English, engineering. I think all of these fields, they're just another avenue for us to view our world. We can view the world from History, for instance, and that gives us just another perspective. We need to look at it from historical perspective. We can look at our world through literature through English. We need to do that. Engineering is just another. I have one faculty member in my office the other day and said, "Oh, Mansour, you always try to become so literally in your way of thinking into idealistic. We are engineers, why should we become like that?" What do you think my answer to her was? I said, "Because of the way you're thinking right now as we speak, we only have five percent of our representatives from scientific fields and engineering in Congress." These are the decision-making people for us. I said, "ninety-five percent of them are coming from non-science based and they get to make decisions about our environment, about our social infrastructure and wars." That's why our planning is horrible. Genocide is happening before our eyes and we just let it go. People are numb to it. "Just kill the Kurds."
MOORE-MOAURO: You discuss this with your students?
TEHERNEZHADI: Sometimes I do. Within every scientific field or any engineering, there's always this huge question of ethics. It's a very nebulous concept. People think ethics is about stealing or not giving full disclosure. Ethics is very complex. Basically, by an engineer not becoming more literate or having a higher command on literature. By an engineer not having a higher level of, let's say, cognizant about, let's say, social implication of their design, they're becoming unethical. Believe it or not because you cannot express your thoughts correctly or much more impactful in front of people or in front of your students, and you're basically discounting their educational experience. They're not getting their money's worth out of you because you think, "This equation is just a mathematical equation. I'm an engineer. I only talk mathematics." No, those equations have lives. They're trying to talk to you.
- Synopsis: College of Engineering Accomplishments and ProjectsKeywords: Fermi National Lab; Argonne National Lab; Department of Energey; National Institute of Standards and Technology; physics; engineering; North Western University; Rockford Area Economic Development Council; biomedical engineering; mechatonics; Board of Higher Education; degree program; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: What are some accomplishments of the department that you'd like to highlight?
TEHERNEZHADI: Well, the accomplishment of the department, I would say at the college level, of course, I can talk about, we have had good collaboration with the Fermi National Lab. Our faculty members are also collaborating closely with Argonne National Lab. We have had funding from the National Science Foundation for our faculty as a result of the interdisciplinary collaboration between physics and engineering, the Department of Energy, funding, again also collaboration with other universities. We had a faculty member who collaborated in Northwestern University and we got a major grant from NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology]. We also collaborated with community colleges, I myself- community colleges and Rockford Area Economic Development Council and we got a major grant for job and innovation acceleration challenge. Basically, taking science and then we try to basically have much more facilitated training pathways for students coming to engineering through community colleges. We've also been very agile in terms of establishing new degree programs. For instance, we have established a BS in biomedical engineering, BS in mechatronics. We also are about to embark on establishing BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering as I said and then also our college for the past thirty, we were established back in 1985 so basically that's about thirty four years in existence. Basically now, just back in September we got approval from the Board of Higher Education for offering PhDs in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. As a result of that, now we're being a force to be reckoned with in terms of high-end research because of a lot of times, funding agencies such as National Science Foundation or Department of Energy say, "You guys don't have PhD. How can you do this high-end research?" We established that. Also, internationally, we're trying to grow this avenue of partnership from a global perspective. I just visited the Institute of Mine and Technology in France which is basically, it's about an hour and a half ride by train north of Paris. Basically we trying to bring talent from that region and our faculty members going over there again, doing an interdisciplinary collaboration. Also trying to establish a similar type of collaboration, let's say with the Czech Republic, Turkey, Brazil, Colombia and so forth. Hopefully, if we have this bi-directional flow of talent at the interdisciplinary level, we would be able to come up with better and better designs, discoveries, and so forth. Basically it makes our job more passionate, more exciting. If people left to their own, we're social beings and people, they think you go to a disco, you dance, that's one way you can exercise your social desires but there are other ways too, basically, people from different schools coming and talk to each other. They get excited, "Wow, I can think that this way," and that's a mind opener. Basically, we want to encourage those things. People will start thinking, they'll look at life all with a renewed vision. In my opinion, nothing is sacrosanct. We need to be open to new ideas and we need to basically create an exciting environment where people do not be scared or not scared of collaborating. "This is not my field, I'm not going to touch it." How can we bring the valor and interpret spirit for people to become more and more explorative? After all, this country is about being brave, not only in terms of our courage but also in terms of our discoveries and inquiries that we do. How can we intensify that? I think that's through collaboration and creating environments that will lend itself to interdisciplinary collaboration among people. I think NIU is making all the right calls. I'm very pleased by that. I keep making my faculty aware of it. They're excited about the direction that we're heading and hopefully fifty years from now, one hundred years from now, maybe one hundred twenty five years, we'd be in a much, much more technologically advanced society and people will look back say, "Wow, what these guys were doing," in comparison, we would be like a caveman.
- Synopsis: Past, Present, and Future Challenges for the Engineering DepartmentKeywords: resources; state budget; student enrollment; leaving; strategic plan; student demographics; interdisciplinary research; administration; University fo Illinois; Northwestern University; labor shortage; declining enrollment; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Very good. What are some operational challenges that the department has faced during your time?
TEHERNEZHADI: Operational challenges, again resources. Resources constraints, we need to become more and more resilient in our thinking and in our, I would say, partnerships that we put in place to be able to withstand a higher level of turbulence that's going to come our way and it will come our way and it's going to intensify.
MOORE-MOAURO: What kind of turbulence?
TEHERNEZHADI: I was going to get to that. Basically Shrinking resources, both from the state and students. For three years, the state of Illinois deprived state institutions from their appropriated budget. NIU, in particular, did not have, a solid budget for three years. I think last year, they started giving us the money with the new governor coming in and that really took its toll. It discouraged international travels for certain faculty members and then families, they got scared that this, I would say, second-tier institutions are not viable options for their kids. A lot of families send their kids to Iowa or to Indiana, and so forth, neighboring states. But again, the leadership of the universities, they have to come up with the right vision going back to that strategic objectivity to put themselves in a more, I would say, proactive and predictive mode of operation. We have to become more and more scientifically sound in our projections as to what the student demographics are going to require. That's one source of revenue coming to the university, but above all, going back to the interdisciplinary research, that's going to be the only, in my opinion, critical cover that would have this university to sustain itself for another one hundred twenty five years to come. If we do not do a good job there, might as well kiss this journey goodbye, because we will not be able to sustain ourselves and that's what science is trying to tell us. You guys better get your act together and you need to collaborate more and more. Collaboration has to happen, we need to basically have a higher level of multiplier factor. We're not going to achieve that higher level of multiplicity unless we have a higher level of interdisciplinary collaboration among our researchers, scientists, and faculty. It has to be genuine, it has to be honest to goodness collaboration, not because the administrator would try to tell in front of other administrators. There has to be the substance behind it. We should not have this as like, "I'm a rock star." I think good scientists are down to earth people. Basically, we need to become more and more cognizant of creating an environment that bodes well for research. Parents, once they see that NIU provides the opportunity for their kids to basically get a very solid education that will sustain them for thirty, forty years of career, of course, they're going to send their kids to NIU. Why do they go to U of I [University of Illinois] ? Or why do they go to Northwestern? Northwestern has ten thousand students, they get thirty thousand applications. I've said that in the front of the board of trustees, our excellence in teaching is going to come from our excellence in research. That has to happen. More you try to basically say, "Student's success is student's success." Research is a precursor to the student's success. If we do not feed the research component of the university, the discovery, that's the core mission of every university, if that doesn't happen, in any field, I don't care, literature, history, physics, chemistry, engineering, is inquiry. Show me inquiry. Because of that inquiry, we can excel and we can bring the students to the table. "I'm going to go there. I'm going to go work with such and such professor who really knows his field inside-out." Engineering right now is recognized by the industrial base that they are producing honest to goodness engineers with good talents that would feed them for their workforce. Because we have an aging workforce. Let's face it. Baby boomers are retiring and this industry base, they're scared. What's going to happen? If they become sixty five, seventy years old, they're out of here. They need to have infusion of new blood coming in, new ideas, new skill sets. We're doing a good job there. Engineering is not struggling in terms of student enrollments, but I'm worried about the other part of the university. We need to think outside the box. Every day that we wake up, we need to come up with a new idea. We need to come up with a new outlook as however you are looking at our lives, new understandings. If every day that understanding doesn't get refined or new angles and new dimensions, new questions, new answers, new insights. If you're not doing that on a constant basis, a continuous basis, we're going to be at a major disadvantage. We can put a lot of money in this university, but if we do not have the right strategic vision, it's not going to do anything. It's not going to be impactful. We need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the faculty. That has to happen too. That entrepreneurial spirit is not going to get unleashed unless faculty members become more and more cognizant of what spectrum of options they have in front of them and they keep expanding that horizon of options that they have. That's going to come again in terms of interdisciplinary collaboration.
- Synopsis: A Strategic Vision for the FutureKeywords: strategic vision; national labs; national science foundation; Antarctica; exploration; 3D printing; Vice President for Research and Innovations Partnership; R2; R1; High Research Activity; Very High Reasearch Activity; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Building on strategic vision, from your perspective, what do you think are some of the more important changes that have occurred at the university since you arrived on campus?
TEHERNEZHADI: With respect to the strategic vision, we basically intensified our collaboration with National Labs, which I think is a thumbs-up move in the right direction. We also became more and more successful in terms of getting larger and larger grants from the National Science Foundation in certain areas like our polar exploration folks for Antarctica, down in our sciences, active manufacturing. We also made major movement there for 3D metal printing, because in the 3D metal printing, there's quite a bit of apprehension that you're trying to laser-fuse these metal powders, how do you make sure that for aerospace application that they do not disintegrate midair. People still have this fear about those. Basically, we try to understand the science behind that. We collaborated with our folks down in Northwestern on that. Also, going back to that strategic vision, we're trying to put more and more capital on research and trying to extricate ourselves solely based on the tuition dollars, like research packages for new hires. I would like to give a large amount of credit to our VPR [Vice President for Research Innovations and Partnership] who was instrumental in terms of providing or establishing this culture of start packages for new hires, providing them in terms of financial assistance for their travels, for their research assistance, for establishing their laboratories. All of those things are the right moves. Basically, we are an R2 [High Research Activity] institution, a research institution. We're trying to basically have a level playing field so we can go into R1 [Very High Research Activity] type of institution. I think that's this core strategic vision that universities have undertaken in the past few years. I think we're in the right path.
- Synopsis: Love What You Do and Be PassionateKeywords: mid life crisis; student; academics; monetary gains; life advice; NIUTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: I'm at the last two of my questions.
TEHERNEZHADI: Really? [laughs]
TEHERNEZHADI: I thought we're still at the beginning. [laughter]
MOORE-MOAURO: If we had more time, I can assure you this would've been just the beginning, a much longer interview process, but the constraints of the project leave us a finite amount of time. Is there anything you'd like to share that I have not asked about? Anything about your relationship with NIU or some story related to NIU that you personally want included in this interview?
TEHERNEZHADI: Well, I'm always thankful for my entire journey in this life. I think NIU was a significant portion of that. I went home, my child was applying for colleges. I told him, "I'm still at school,” I said, "I've been at school ever since I was six years old. I skipped kindergarten. We didn't have kindergarten there." I'm always grateful that I've been allowed to be in an environment where constantly you can interact with the students, you can learn, you can teach. It truly is an honor to be in such an environment. I see my colleagues working in industry and they're not as, I would say, motivated by the juice of life. I think in academic environments, they really keep those juices alive in you if you take it seriously and appreciate the environment. Not for monetary gains, that's one thing I tell my students. When you're going to go for your first job, don't think of the monetary gains of your job, a lot of people just driven by money. Think of what kind of experiences you're going to gain, how much the job is going to contribute to your intellectual growth, to basically change your perspective on life. That's extremely important. Because I see a lot of people, they get midlife crisis and they have to resort to alcohol or drugs. The human brain is strange. If you don't feed the brain, the brain is going to turn on you. "You didn't take care of me, I'm not going to take care of you." That's the situation. We need to be thankful for the environment that we're in. I think NIU has been certainly a critical part of that. Any opportunity that I get in order to strengthen the relationship of NIU with other institutions, I think it's going to be extremely important in terms of making NIU a vibrant, intellectual organization for our students, for our faculty. Bringing down the walls, putting aside our prejudices. "I'm an engineer, I'm not going to work with scientists." Both cultural, both racial, and then trying to basically embrace life in its entirety.
- Synopsis: Conclusion, NIU has ValueKeywords: accomplishment; research; faculty; NIU; 125th Anniversary; partnership; engineeringTranscript: MOORE-MOAURO: Very good. My final question. I would like to end the interview with this. If given the opportunity, what is something that you personally think the 125th Anniversary Committee should spend time, energy and resources on and why?
TEHERNEZHADI: I would say they should have on the pedestal the research accomplishments of NIU faculty, and let the public know how much work NIU has done, that NIU is very well-connected with other institutions, academic institutions as well as industrial base, we are not acting in isolation because in the public mind, "Oh, NIU is just a regional University, they're not well-connected." So we need to basically be disruptive to that mindset, and I think if you put the research accomplishment, our faculty on the pedestal, also showing our partnership, both industrial as well as in academic partnership with other universities, we will be able to shatter that mindset and let the world know that NIU is a force to reckon with.
MOORE-MOAURO: Very good. Thank you. Dr. Mansour Tehernezhadi, I would like to extend not only my personal thanks but a thank you from the Northern Illinois University History Department for participating in the 125th Anniversary Project. You have provided wonderful insight into not only your time at NIU but also reflected upon the changes the university is gone through these past several years. The important change over time forms a central focal point for historical analysis. The contributions you've made today will be a valuable resource moving forward in not only preserving the institution's history but showing how far the University has come. Doctor, thank you.
TEHERNEZHADI: Thank you, for giving me the opportunity.
- Program Coming Soon!