Dr. Kenneth Lewis Makes History as 44th Arthur Holly Compton Award Recipient

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dean LewisSince its inception in 2002, SC State University has seen phenomenal strides within the Nuclear Engineering Program.  Aside from being the only undergraduate degree program of its kind in the state of South Carolina, the program will have produced two dozen graduates by May 2011 and continues to educate future scientists and engineers. 

The list continues with yet another historic feat­­-the awarding of the 2010 Arthur Holly Compton Award to Dr. Kenneth D. Lewis, dean of the College of Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology.  As the first African-American recipient of the award, which was established more than four decades ago, Lewis shares the list with notable professors across the country, including six professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass.

“I was deeply honored and quite humbled by receiving this award.  People have acknowledged that we are a viable program and we are here to stay,” expressed Lewis. “For us at SC State to have gotten this award is a tremendous accomplishment.

The Arthur Holly Compton Award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to education in the fields of nuclear science and engineering, a feat that Lewis knows all about.  In 2008, he successfully led the historic effort to gain accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This was accomplished in just three years after Lewis’ arrival in 2005, a process that normally takes seven to eight years to complete. The success of the accreditation can be attributed to Lewis’ tireless efforts to obtain federal funding for the program.  Spending several hours planning and writing grants in the evenings and on weekends, Lewis has been instrumental in obtaining close to $10 million in grant funding which has been used for student scholarships, faculty support and state-of-the-art equipment.  The program received an additional $4,000 during the naming of Lewis as the 44th Author Holly Compton Award Recipient in 2010.

“We have been able to build state-of-the-art laboratories that enable our students to conduct research and perform various experiments,” he says.  “Inside the classroom, our students are educated through textbooks written by many of the professors who have also obtained the Arthur Holly Compton Award, including Samuel Glasstone (1968 recipient), Raymond Murray (1970 recipient), James J. Duderstadt (1985 recipient), Glenn Knoll (1991 recipient) and Elmer Lewis (1992 recipient).”

The students also benefit from the Distinguished Lecturer Series, which brings engineering professionals to the University to talk to students.  As a result of this series, the program has been featured twice on the cover of “Nuclear News,” a national publication for the American Nuclear Society and the most widely read trade magazine in nuclear science and engineering in the world.  Lewis and his students have also been featured in other specialty magazines noted for achieving a milestone in nuclear science and engineering.  The nuclear engineering program is something unique and new at an HBCU (Historically Black College and University),” says Lewis. He credits the success of the program at SC State to several factors, but says the students, faculty and staff are the heart and soul of it all.

“One of the things you will always see is me surrounded by either my students or my colleagues. I don’t like to take isolated pictures.  This is because they are the reason for my success.  It’s something that’s shared.”

The driving force Lewis speaks about is Dr. Musa Danjaji, associate professor of nuclear engineering and laboratory director for Energy Studies; Dr. Kenneth Okafor, associate professor of nuclear engineering; Dr. Stanley  Ihekweazu, chair of the department of civil and mechanical engineering technology and nuclear engineering; Mr. Charles Warner, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology; Dr. Zheng Chang, visiting associate professor of radiochemistry; and Mrs. April Hutton-Moorer, nuclear engineering program coordinator and director of the Summer Nuclear Science Institute (SNSI), who Lewis calls one of the biggest contributors to the program. 

For more than four years, Moorer has coordinated the SNSI which has attracted over 60 applicants each summer.  During the week-long institute, high school students reside on campus while engaging in an intensive series of lectures and hands-on laboratory activities in the areas of nuclear science, engineering, health and medical physics and radiochemistry.

“In the fall of 2011, we will have three additional students attending the University, two from Orangeburg that have a score of 25 on their ACT test.  All of them attended our Summer Nuclear Science Institute for high school students,” Lewis says.  He hopes that those students will achieve the same or greater success as previous graduates.  He notes that in May 2010, SC State University graduated four of 11 African-American bachelor’s level nuclear engineers produced in the United States, and the only two African-American females. In May 2011, SC State will graduate at least eight more African-American nuclear engineers, and this is projected to be more than any other institution in the country combined.

Apart from his prolific work with the Nuclear Engineering program, Lewis and his team have also done notable work in the College of Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology. Lewis was instrumental in establishing two new programs in radiochemistry (2005) and health physics (2008) at SC State University.  He is also preparing to add three additional programs including the Master of Science degree in bio-robotics, the Master of Science degree in energy and environment and a Bachelor of Science degree in professional land surveying. 

In June 2009, history was made on the campus of SC State when bio-diesel fuel was produced using pure vegetable oil, methanol and potassium hydroxide. The biodiesel project is an initiative of SC State’s Center for Energy Studies.  Under the direction of professor Musa Danjaji, this center serves as a pioneering entity for alternative energy with the study of hydrogen fuel cells, solar and wind energy initiatives and the production of hydrogen by its evolution from switchgrass and agriculture waste products. This latter effort, headed by Dr. Joe Emily, associate professor of chemistry and Dr. Nazimuddin Mohammed, visiting assistant professor of biological sciences, currently has one pending patent on it.

“I am very proud of the fact that we were able to start a center for Energy Studies.  I actually think that it will evolve to become a larger and more recognized program than nuclear science and engineering programs because it’s multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted, and nationally well-funded by a number of federal agencies,” says Lewis.

For 27 years, Lewis served in several capacities as a nuclear engineer and engineering manager for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems (LMES) and Babcock & Wilcox Corporation at sites in Portsmouth, Ohio; Livermore, Calif. and Oak Ridge, Tenn.  A native of Newark, N.J., he is a graduate of Rutgers College, Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he completed a master’s in applied mathematics and his PH.D. in nuclear engineering.  He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the LMES Engineer of the Year; the Lockheed Martin Corporation’s NOVA  award for technical excellence; the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award; The Ohio Society of Professional Engineer’s Merit Award for outstanding performance on the Professional Engineering (PE) licensure examination; a personal letter of appreciation from President Bill Clinton for contributions to the Sapphire Project, a 1994 covert operation of the United States government to remove 600 kg weapons graded enriched uranium from Ust-Kamenogorsk in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan; and a listing in Who’s Who in Engineering. He also received the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award from the University of Illinois in 2008.

An ordained minister, Lewis has been married for 32 years and has two adult children, Caleb Lewis, (MPH) Master of Public Health, and Sarah A. Lewis, a college senior at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.