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Society of Distinguished Alumni

The Mechanical Engineering Society of Distinguished Alumni

The ME Society of Distinguished Alumni is an honorary society open to qualified graduates, of the ME Department at Virginia Tech (at bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels). The fundamental purpose of the Society is to provide a formal means of recognition of those alumni who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in their careers. A major objective of the Society is to promote greater interaction between ME Alumni and ME faculty, staff, and students.

Darrell R. Branscome

Darrell R. Branscome

DRB Associates

Mr.  Branscome has more than 55 years of professional experience related to the United States space program.  Currently he is President, DRB Associates Corporation, and is engaged in strategic and business consulting.   

He served in the Senior Executive Service in leadership positions at NASA Headquarters Office of Space Flight and at Langley Research Center.  As Deputy Associate Administrator (Enterprise Development), he led development of a new Strategic Plan and the Exploration Technology Initiative.  At Langley he served as Director, Space and Atmospheric Sciences Program Group and as Director, Space Access and Exploration Program Office

He served as NASA Co-Director for a National Space Transportation Study and as NASA representative on a team to formulate a National Launch Recovery Plan (following Shuttle and other launch failures). He was the principal NASA advocate for replacing the Challenger orbiter which was approval by President Reagan. He served on a small NASA study team supporting the National Space Council culminating in the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative proposal by President Bush. He served as Chairman of the National Research Council Steering Committee for Workshops on Issues of Technology Development for Human and Robotic Exploration and Development of Space.  

As Staff Director for the House Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications, he led staff support to the NASA annual authorization legislative process and drafting of major legislation including the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 which established the initial policy framework for commercial ownership and operation of launch vehicles

Awards and Recognition

  • NASA Exceptional Service and Outstanding Leadership Medals
  • AIAA Fellow
  • SES Presidential Meritorious Awards in 1992 and 1999
  • Member Pi Tau Sigma
    (as an undergraduate)

Phil Burkholder

Phil Burkholder

Executive Vice President, Operations, Defense

Phil Burkholder is currently Executive Vice President, Operations, Defense for Rolls-Royce, and is accountable for the internal and external supply chain.   He also leads manufacturing, production, and test activities across the Defense business at five locations in North America and Europe.  In addition, he is a member of the LibertyWorks board.  Phil has held roles at Rolls-Royce as President, Defense Programs; President, Defense Aerospace, North America; Executive Vice President, Engineering and Technology; Chief Operating Officer of Rolls-Royce North American Technologies, Inc.; Chief Engineer- Joint Strike Fighter F-35B STOVL; and Chief Design Engineer for the AE family of engines.

Burkholder joined Rolls-Royce in 1986 and has contributed to the propulsion system solutions for aircraft such as the V-22 Osprey, C-130J, Cessna Citation X, Embraer ERJ-145, RQ-4 Global Hawk, SAAB-2000, the F-35 Lightning II, T-45 Goshawk, A400M Atlas, Harrier, Bell 407, and others. He has five patented inventions.

Burkholder graduated summa cum laude from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. In 2006, he completed The Executive Program from the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. 

He is a chartered engineer and a Royal Aeronautical Society Fellow. He currently serves on the RR-Purdue UTP Executive Governance Board. He served on the Virginia Tech Advisory Board for the College of Engineering 2008-2012.

Howard Dittmer

Howard Dittmer

Chief Information Officer

Howard Dittmer has spent 46 years in engineering leadership roles at a range of world-class companies. He started his career at General Dynamic as a design and project engineer on the F-16 Lightweight Fighter program. 

Following that, he joined Rockwell International leading engineering teams in their pipeline and chemical process valve products. He also served as leader of the engineering team at Fluid Management, the world leader in high-accuracy small-batch fluid dispensing systems. Additionally, he served as the Executive Vice President at Herbst LaZar Bell, one of the leading independent product development firms. He also led the engineering and information technology teams at ARPAC, a leading packaging equipment manufacturer and integrator. 

Howard holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MS and Ph.D. in Software Engineering from DePaul University. He was a founding advisory board member for Northwestern University’s Masters of Product Development program. He has also been a member of the ASME Industry Advisory Board. Howard is a member and past Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board chairman. He is a long-standing ASME, IEEE, and the Association of Computing Machinery member. 

Howard holds six US patents. He is an active Radio Amateur and holds an extra-class license, call sign NZ5U. Howard and his wife, Sheree, are retired and live in Lamy, New Mexico.

Mohammad Elahinia

Mohammad Elahinia

University Distinguished Professor of Engineering
Chair of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
The University of Toledo

Dr. Elahinia is a University Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering (MIME) Department at The University of Toledo. He obtained his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in August 2004. Following his graduation, he joined the faculty of the MIME Department, where he currently serves as the department head and director of the Institute for Applied Engineering Research.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Elahinia has made significant contributions to the field of advanced manufacturing, with a focus on the modeling, control, and design of smart and active materials. His research particularly emphasizes additive manufacturing of functional materials, such as shape memory alloys, for aerospace and biomedical applications. Dr. Elahinia has successfully secured over $26 million in external grants and has served as the advisor for 80 graduate students and postdocs, twelve of whom have gone on to become professors at other universities. 

His research findings have been widely disseminated through his numerous publications, which have been cited more than 10,000 times. In addition to his research achievements, Dr. Elahinia has been actively involved in professional societies. In 2004, he was elected as a member of the ASME/SPIE Adaptive Structures and Material Systems Branch under the Aerospace Division. He has held several elected positions within the branch, including the chair. The branch boasts a membership of over 1500 professionals. Dr. Elahinia also serves as an associate editor for esteemed journals in his research area, including Intelligent Material Systems and Structures, as well as the Journal of Shock and Vibration.

Jay Frankel

Jay Frankel, Ph.D.

Classes of 1982 and 1986
Department Head, R. Myers Endowed Professor,
New Mexico State University
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Jay Frankel earned his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 1986 and his MS in 1982. From 1982 to 1984 he worked in the DC area for a consulting firm and then at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) as a Guest Worker from the University of Maryland.

Frankel began his academic career in 1986 as an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Florida Institute of Technology-Melbourne, FL. He left Florida Tech in 1993 as an Associate Professor.

He joined the Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering Department in 1993 as an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He attained full rank as a Professor in 1996. He retired from UT in 2020, completing more than 26 years of research, teaching, and service. He was awarded Emeritus Professor of the Department in 2020.

He is presently the Department Head and R. Myers Endowed Professor of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. 

Frankel’s research in heat transfer conduction and radiation (theoretical, computational, and desk-top experimental), applied mathematics (with focus on integral equations), and data reduction led to him receiving many NSF grants as PI. He has also received grants and contracts from UCAH (Pentagon), NASA, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL-WP), Sandia National Laboratories, ORNL, the US Department of Energy, Defense Nuclear Agency, Defense Special Weapons Agency and others. 

He has more than 145 publications (85 archival journals, 60 conference papers), has published in 32 different peer review journals, and has served as a reviewer to more than 36 journals involving engineering, mathematics, and physics. He has also presented 73 invited domestic and international seminars, and has one US patent. He is an Associate Editor to the AIAA J. of Thermophysics and Associate Fellow of the AIAA.

Jaff Jablon

Jeffrey Jablon

Class of 1987
Commander, Submarine Force
U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Navy

Jeffrey Jablon is a United States Navy rear admiral and submarine warfare officer serving as Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet since April 29, 2021. Prior to that post, he served as director of military personnel plans and policy of the United States Navy.

He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from James Madison University.

His sea tours include a division officer assignment aboard USS L. Mendel Rivers (SSN 686), navigator and operations officer aboard USS Olympia (SSN 717) and executive officer aboard USS Key West (SSN 722). He commanded USS Philadelphia (SSN 690) in Groton, Connecticut, and was commodore of Submarine Development Squadron (DEVRON) Five in Bangor, Washington. Jablon was recognized by the United States Naval Submarine League with the Jack Darby Award for Inspirational Leadership in 2007.

His staff assignments include: tours as assistant professor of naval science at Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit, University of Virginia; special projects officer on the Staff of the Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet; naval warfare submarine strategist at US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM); Commander, Submarine Development Squadron (COMSUBDEVRON) 12 deputy commander for training; Naval Submarine School prospective commanding officer instructor; division director of Submarine/Nuclear Power Distribution (PERS-42).

His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and various unit and service awards.

Missed due to complications from COVID-19.

Robert Clark

Robert Clark, Ph.D.

Classes of 1987, 1988, 1992
Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester

Robert Clark earned his BS, MS, and PhD in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and joined Duke University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science in 1992.  He founded Duke’s Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems, creating a multi-million-dollar program involving more than two dozen faculty members.  He also held the Thomas Lord Professorship of Engineering and served as Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering before joining the faculty at the University of Rochester to serve as Dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2008.  

Clark was named Senior Vice President for Research in March 2013 following a national search and was appointed Provost and Senior Vice President for Research on July 1, 2016. In this capacity, Clark was head of the University’s academic enterprise and worked to promote the intellectual life of its community. He stepped away from that role in June 2021, choosing to continue his work as Professor.

He has maintained an active role with industry, serving as a consultant and having founded three companies.  He currently serves as the Chair of the Strategic Research Advisory Board for the Austrian Institute of Technology and as a Chair of the Governance Committee for the Board of Directors of Minerals Technologies (MTX).  He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Acoustical Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ash Dudding

Ash Dudding

Class of 1989
Director of Engineering, Hendrickson International

Ash Dudding  has worked for Hendrickson Truck Commercial Vehicles for over 20 years.  In this capacity he is responsible for product development, application and validation of Hendrickson’s truck suspension, spring and steer axle products. 

He has made significant contributions toward the development of the broad range of products Hendrickson offers today.  This includes expansion into new product segments such as bus suspensions and steer axles, along with new markets such as China and India.  In addition, Ash has cultivated long- lasting relationships with key technical personnel at OEM customers and within the Commercial Vehicle industry.  Prior to Hendrickson, he worked at Volvo Truck where he was responsible for developing their North American endurance testing facility and test programs.  

Ash graduated from Virginia Tech in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.  He is a long-standing member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and was one of the founding members of Virginia Tech’s Formula SAE team.  He has presented several papers, served on technical committees and held local section offices.  

He is currently a member of the Commercial Vehicle Exposition Executive Council and a Formula SAE Lead Judge.  Ash is very active as a mentor for Yorkville, Illinois High School’s First Robotics team FoximusPrime.  He is also an avid enthusiast of fishing and off-road sports.

Jay Rule

Jay Rule, Ph.D.

Classes of 1975, 1976, and 1980
Mechanical Engineer at Rule Engineering

Following his retirement in 2019 from the packaging company, Westrock, Jay Rule returned to teach the ME 2134 Thermodynamics course in the Mechanical Engineering Department as an adjunct instructor.  He currently serves as a tutor and engineering guide for thermodynamics students, where he works online with groups of students who are interested in participating outside the classroom in this important introductory course.

Rule retired as Senior  Principal Engineer from WestRock Corporation, where he worked for 30 years. He joined the company’s Research Lab in 1989, conducting applied production research, and added supervisory responsibilities in the Covington paperboard mill starting in 2002. In his final role as Senior Principal Engineer, he supervised the mill’s young process engineers as well as leading project work in production performance analysis and thermal/fluids/heat transfer process improvement.

Rule was an instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering from 1980-1989.  His first job out of college was with Procter and Gamble, where he worked from 1976 until he started teaching in 1980.

He received BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 1975, 1976, and 1988 respectively.

Rule is a registered professional engineer in Virginia and a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society and Legacy Society.  He and his wife Jeanne reside in Daleville, Virginia.

John Blanton

John C. Blanton, Ph.D.

Classes of 1976, 1977, 1981
Gas Turbine Engineering, GE (Retired)

An internationally known and respected leader in the field of gas turbine design and technology, Dr. John Blanton has maintained life-long commitments to the sound fundamental practice of mechanical engineering and to his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Starting as a student and continuing through his lengthy career with GE and now as a consultant, John has excelled at complementing corporate engineering responsibilities with leadership and collaborative volunteer activities with professional engineering societies. John has also shared his experiences with the next generations through extensive formal teaching and mentoring programs. His life-long service to Virginia Tech includes more than 10 years service to the Department Advisory Board.

Dr. William Cousins

William Cousins, Ph.D.

Classes of 1978, 1979, 1997
Fellow, Thermal Fluid Sciences, United Technology Research Center

Dr. Bill Cousins is a recognized international expert in compression system stability and operability. His work and invention of a device for fore-and-aft flow in a surge event in compressions, has become the standard for stall and surge testing in turbine engine compressors. As he continues his ground-breaking research with United Technologies Research Center, Bill recently completed the design and test of the first-ever boundary-layer ingesting distortion tolerant fan under a NASA contract. He shares his knowledge with students at Virginia Tech, as well as maintaining a position as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Hartford. In addition to his role on the Department Advisory Board, Bill also serves as an informal advisor to the governing board of the ASME International Gas Turbine Institute.

Michael Fleming

Michael Fleming

Classes of 2002, 2003
CEO & Co-Founder, Torc Robotics

Michael Fleming is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Torc Robotics, a leading provider of self-driving solutions, based in Blacksburg, VA. Beginning operations in 2005 as a Virginia Tech student start-up, Torc developed the self-driving technology for team Victor Tango in the DARPA Urban Challenge. Since its top three finish in this historic self-driving race, Fleming has overseen Torc’s rapid and organic growth to over 100 employees – along with the commercialization of self-driving technology into trucking, mobility, mining, and defense applications through OEM partnerships. In March 2019 Daimler Trucks and Torc announced an agreement for Daimler to acquire a majority ownership in Torc, forming a partnership to commercialize Level 4 self-driving trucks. Under the agreement, Torc retains its name, leadership, facilities, and customers.

Uma Jayaram

Uma Jayaram, Ph.D.

Classes of 1987, 1991
Managing Director and Principal Engineer, Intel Sports

The first woman officially admitted to the Indian Institute of Technology’s Mechanical Engineering program at IIT Kharagpur, Dr. Uma Jayaram completed her master’s degree at Virginia Tech working on hypersonic jet inlets, before going on to complete her Ph.D. in computer-aided design/interactive computer graphics and mathematical geometric surface modeling for aircraft. Since leaving Blacksburg, Uma has started three companies, including Voke, a virtual reality experience company which was bought by Intel in 2016. She currently leads a vibrant engineering team at Intel and has brought her experience and expertise to providing cutting-edge immersive experiences for sporting events and leagues such as the 2018 Winter Olympics, NFL, NBA, NCAA, and MLB.

Edward L. Nelson

Edward L. Nelson, Ph.D.

Classes of 1990, 1992, 1994
Associate Dean, Administration and Chief of Staff, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech

Dr. Ed Nelson earned BS/MS/PhD degrees from Virginia Tech and earned a 4-year undergraduate National Society of Professional Engineers Scholarship. In 1991 Ed worked at NASA Ames Research Center in the area of experimental infrared radiation heat transfer, and from 1996-1999 for a company in the CRC as the PI on a Naval Air Warfare Center contract studying heat flux of solid rocket plumes. From 1999-2005, Ed worked at VT with Continuing and professional Education on over 150 revenue-generating programs. Since 2005, he has served as the Associate Dean for Administration and Chief of Staff of the College of Engineering, responsible for the COE budget, human resources, and facilities assets. Since 2005 the COE has increased tenure-track faculty from 288 to 381 and its undergraduate program from 5,400 to 8,100. Most recently, he has been devoted to planning the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Alexandria, VA and the Holden Hall expansion set to begin in 2019.

Michelle M. Grieshaber. Classes of 1985, 1986, 1991. Chief Marketing Officer, Silicon Labs
* Walter F. O’Brien. Classes of 1960, 1968. J. Bernard Jones Professor, Mechanical Engineering
John F. Sparks. Classes of 1974, 1976, 1981. Director, Program Management, Aerojet Rocketdyne
Keith van Houten. Class of 1991. Manager, ADAS/Autonomous Vehicle Performance Simulation, General Motors
Sarah J. Mayer. Class of 1988. Sr. Director, Architecture, Capabilities & Systems, BDS Operations and Quality, Boeing

Eligible ME alumni who have distinguished themselves by being named to the College of Engineering Academy of Academic Excellence through 2017, are inducted into the MESoDA as Legacy Members.

Jerry H. Ballengee, 1962, Retired President and CO, Union Camp Corp.
R. Sidney Barrett Jr., 1962, Retired General Partner, B&H Enterprises (deceased)
Edgar Boynton, 1921, Former Partner, Wiley and Wilson (deceased)
David A. Christian, 1976, Executive Vice President and CEO, Dominion Resource
William A. Cox Jr., 1934, Retired, William A. Cox Consulting (deceased)
Nicholas H. Des Champs, Ph.D., 1962, 1967, Founder, Retired President, Des Champs Technologies
Regina E. Dugan, 1984, 1985, Head of Building 8, Facebook
Elmer R. Easton, 1947, President and CEO, Three D Graphics
Robert C. Gibson, 1961, Past Chairman, Clark, Nexsen
George R. Goodson Jr., 1949, Founder, Retired Chairman, Warwick Plumbing and Heating
J.B. Jones, Ph.D.,  1945, Retired, Professor and Department Head 1964-1984 (deceased)
John R. Jones III, 1967, Retired President, American Electric Power Pro Service
Mary “Prim” Jones, 1962, Retired Executive Director of Engineering, Aerojet General Corporation
E. George Middleton Jr., 1950, Retired President, E.G. Middleton, Inc.  (deceased)
Hobart A. Weaver, 1950, Retired Director, Lucent Technologies  (deceased)
William K. Wells, 1966, Former Partner, Kenyon and Kenyon