By Brady Oppenheim
When Dr. Ralph Aldredge begins his new position as the UC Davis College of Engineering’s Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in summer 2019, he will bring a long history of student advocacy to his latest role.
A professor in the college’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Aldredge has worked at classroom, department, college, campus and systemwide levels to support all UC students in their educational goals. In addition to serving in numerous undergraduate and graduate leadership and advocacy settings—including as faculty assistant to the dean for undergraduate studies, chair of the academicsenate Committee on Admissions and Enrollment and chair of the system-wide Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS)—he also played an integral role in designing the system-wide and UC Davis holistic-review undergraduate-admissions policies. This strategy increases diversity, equity and inclusivity by considering student applicants’ broad range of attributes and skills beyond their academic measures.
“I’m proud of the adoption of holistic review as an expected method of evaluating applicants at all UC campuses during my tenure on BOARS, and of my role in the design and implementation of holistic review at UC Davis,” he said.
In the College of Engineering, Aldredge hopes to build upon successful efforts to improve retention and graduation rates of engineering majors with proactive advising strategies and by encouraging early engagement with project-centered learning experiences.
“Increasing the diversity of our student body and promoting equity and inclusion with data-driven outreach, recruitment, advising and retention strategies will be a central focus of my new role as well,” he said.
A hands-on approach to engineering
Aldredge’s engineering interest began in childhood with a fascination with mechanical projects around the house. That interest bloomed when he had the opportunity to work as a part-time auto mechanic during his high school years.
“It was at the time that I developed an interest in the field of engineering, in which I learned I could combine my interest in hands-on mechanics with math and science,” he said.
The mentorship of a very supportive college guidance counselor at his inner-city high school opened his eyes to the possibilities of pursuing an engineering degree and encouraged him to follow his dreams.
“She introduced me to several top engineering-focused colleges and universities and gave me confidence that I could succeed,” he said.
And succeed he did, earning his B.S. from Carnegie Mellon University with double majors in mechanical engineering and French and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton. Now he uses his hands-on mechanical passion plus his academic engineering knowledge in the laboratory to study how combustion can be improved to enhance engine performance and fuel efficiency. He also applies methods he has developed for computer modeling and simulations of flame surfaces to better understand the dynamics of cancerous-tumor surfaces.
“It can be very inspiring and energizing to engage in engineering research and design projects that have direct societal impact,” said Aldredge, who now mentors his students as his counselor once did for him. “Learning is a life-long endeavor, and one of the most important skills you will learn at UC Davis is the ability to continue to educate and challenge yourself throughout your professional career.”
Supporting student success
Aldredge doesn’t just apply his hands-on methodology to his cutting-edge mechanical-engineering research: He uses his action-oriented approach to educate, encourage and advocate for all students. Aldredge also serves as the faculty advisor to the college’s Black Engineering Association. “I believe that my role in sparking excitement about engineering and motivating students to succeed is as important as the technical material I teach in class,” he said. “My advice to students is to dream big, set your goals high and believe in yourself just as much as your mentors and supporters believe in you.”