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Professors Deborah Chun and Houbing Song named first WVU Tech Golden Bear Scholars

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WVU Tech’s faculty members are more than professors. They’re writers, artists, musicians and tinkerers with great stories to tell. They’re scientists and engineers with storied careers in the industries that run the world. When they’re not in the classroom, they’re sharing their work with the world.

That’s why WVU Tech created the Golden Bear Scholars program. The new program recognizes two faculty each academic year for their “exceptional record or nationally visible achievement in research, scholarship or creativity.”

This year, those scholars are Dr. Houbing Song, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Dr. Deborah Chun, assistant professor of mathematics.

Being selected as a Golden Bear Scholar means more than a title. Scholars receive an award of $2,500 that can be used towards research support, research salary or academic travel. (WVU Tech faculty members spend a lot of time sharing their work with the world – read more about that on the Facultivities page.)

In addition to the funding award, selected professors are relieved of one course for the academic year, which means more time to spend on research projects.

Dr. Nigel Clark, provost at WVU Tech, said the program is part of the university’s push to keep faculty engaged in research initiatives.

“The Golden Bear Scholar program not only honors faculty, but provides resources to encourage scholarship in new areas and allows faculty to consider initiatives that involve several disciplines,” he said.

“Immersion in research creates teachers who are more current in their area and more connected with their field. It also boosts recognition of the institution – great scholarship sets great universities apart,” he said.

Dr. Deborah Chun, assistant professor of mathematics, matroid master

Dr. Chun grew up in New Jersey and headed west to California, where she double-majored in mathematics and engineering at Harvey Mudd College. She landed a job working for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. after undergrad, but it wasn’t long until her fascination with solving puzzles got the best of her.

“While I was there, I found that I missed school, so I started taking classes at Johns Hopkins Whiting College. I completed a master’s degree in applied and computational mathematics, which made me realize there was more math that I wanted to learn,” she said.

Soon after, Chun enrolled in a Ph.D. program in mathematics at Louisiana State University. She finished her doctorate in 2011 and, ten days after she was awarded her degree, started teaching mathematics at WVU Tech.

“When I was looking for a job after my Ph.D.,” she said, “I was looking for somewhere that was a small school that focused on technical subjects – somewhere like Harvey Mudd. I felt really lucky to find WVU Tech.”

At Tech, Chun has instructed almost every mathematics course the college offers. Her favorites? Discrete Mathematics and Probability and Statistics, because they work most closely with her interest area.

Her research focus is on matroid theory. It’s an area of deep mathematics that studies the properties of unique mathematical sets in vector spaces and impacts fields like coding theory and graph theory. Work in matroid theory feeds into the larger mathematics fields of combinatorics, which has applications in everything from computer science to engineering.

Chun plans to use her scholarship to focus on a few independent projects she’s working on, including collaborations with researchers at Wright State College in Ohio, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the United States Naval Academy in Maryland.

She said the work will help keep her sharp in the field. It’s a sharpness she can use in the classroom.

“I think there are a lot of benefits to faculty engaging in research. Research helps me connect better to students. At the same time as my calculus students are struggling to understand new concepts in my course, I am struggling as fervently in my field,” she said.

“I expect my students to stay intellectually curious so I stay intellectually curious. And these are just side effects to the results produced along the way,” she said.

Dr. Houbing Song, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, cyber-physical guru

Dr. Song grew up in China, where he worked as an assistant research scientist and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering. Song came to the United States in 2005 to pursue a graduate degree in civil engineering in Texas. He earned his master’s and went on to complete his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia.

Song was drawn to WVU Tech in 2012 after researching the university’s engineering programs. Now he teaches courses in signals and systems, communications systems and software tools.

When he’s not instructing, Song is a prolific researcher. His area of expertise is cyber-physical systems, an area of engineering design that integrates software and hardware so that operating systems – like those found in smart grids, robotics and transportation – work seamlessly. It’s an emerging field that Song said holds immense potential to change lives.

“This will drive innovation in sectors such as transportation, energy, healthcare, building design and automation, agriculture and manufacturing,” he said.

Song is currently working on a number of projects involving the design and verification of various cyber-physical systems in transportation, healthcare and energy. In addition to designing these systems, he also has a special interest in the ever-evolving issues of cybersecurity and privacy.

He said he plans to use his time as a Golden Bear Scholar to develop several grant proposals to federal agencies and to find ways to engage with other researchers on collaboration in the field.

“This support grants faculty the time and resources to undertake exploratory investigations, acquire and test preliminary data, develop collaborations within or across research disciplines, which may lead to improved capacity to write successful proposals in the future,” he said.

He also plans to continue his work promoting the field of CPS. Song participates regularly in National Science Foundation workshops and events covering cyber-physical systems. He’s served as an expert panelist in conferences throughout the nation and organized a number of workshops on the subject.

A widely published scholar in the field, Song is attached to a broad range of peer-reviewed publications and books on CPS. He has also served as guest editor for several scholarly journals on the subject. You can see more of his work on his SONG Lab website.

Song said he’s also excited about the potential for the Golden Bear Scholars program to keep faculty engaged.

“By encouraging and supporting faculty to conduct extraordinary research, the Golden Bear Scholars Program is expected to stimulate faculty research activities across Tech and attract more exceptionally talented students,” he said.