When Samuel Graham was at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in the early ‘90s, the young mechanical engineering major was a first-generation college student navigating the challenge of how to make it through college and pay for it. Through internships that took him to Florida, Texas and Ohio, Graham discovered a love for mechanical engineering that hasn’t stopped since.
Fast forward to 2021. The Florida State University (FSU) alumnus has just been named the new engineering dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland.
“It’s been quite a journey and I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve as dean,” Graham said, “I hope to continue to build on the excellent research program at the college and help grow innovation and entrepreneurship in an inclusive manner. I hope we can become a national leader in diversity and inclusion in engineering.”
Graham graduated in 1998 from FSU with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering via FAMU-FSU Engineering and earned his master’s and doctorate from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He began his career as a Senior Member of Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories before joining the faculty at Georgia Tech, where he currently serves as the chair, .Graham begins his new position as the engineering dean at the University of Maryland this fall.
“My undergraduate experience at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering prepared me well for the successes that followed,” Graham said. “Having access to both FAMU and FSU and the support from faculty and friends is something I won’t forget. The networks I built from both campuses provided a memorable experience I would not trade for anything.”
Graham credits growing up in a military family for shaping his interest in mechanical engineering. He chose the field because it gave him the broadest opportunity to create new technologies and test how they worked.
“Growing up in a military family I was exposed to interesting hardware like planes and helicopters and always wondered how they worked. Could they fly faster or do new things like in a sci-fi movie?” Graham said. “Eventually those questions led to my interest in mechanical engineering where you have the opportunity to be involved at each stage of the creation of new technologies. If you are not creating, you are just dreaming. Mechanical engineering allows you to create.”
Graham has served as a member of the Defense Science Study Group and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. He also received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and serves on the advisory board of the Engineering Science Research Foundation of Sandia National Laboratories and the Emerging Technical Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Graham’s research encompasses the development of new wide bandgap semiconductor devices, which enable smart power systems in electric vehicles and smart grids. The devices work with radio frequency communication systems such as 5G wireless and advanced radar.
“We want to make these devices more powerful and efficient while keeping their temperatures cool so they are reliable for the end user,” Graham explained.
According to Graham, the faculty member at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering who influenced him the most was Namas Chandra. Chandra is currently a distinguished professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“I worked for Dr. Namas Chandra as an undergraduate researcher when I was at the college,” Graham said. “The opportunity to work in his lab and receive mentoring from him one-on-one is where I gained confidence. We worked on so many interesting experiments. I began to learn how to view problems and ask the right questions about materials and advanced technologies. The experience pushed me toward graduate school and that curiosity is what drives me still today.”
As an educator, Graham wants students to look for opportunities that connect the classroom to their passions. He encourages them to embrace the journey and follow their personal roadmap to success.
“Learn from others’ experiences but understand your path will be different and build strong networks while in school,” Graham said. “It is amazing how many times you and your network will continue to interact in the future and help each other over your lifetime.”
Graham currently lives in Atlanta with his wife, Shalonda Graham. Shalonda is a graduate of the Florida A&M University School of Business and Industry and a former member of the Marching 100. They have two children, Camryn and Sheldon, both in college studying to be engineers.