Plaut honored by state council
By Liz Crumbley
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 24 - March 19, 1998
"Dr. Plaut is without a doubt the most outstanding professor I have encountered in my academic career. At research-oriented universities, such as Virginia Tech, most good researchers simply aren't the best teachers and vice-versa. Dr. Plaut is a rare exception to this statement and truly excels in both sides of the profession," said graduate student Timothy Mays of Virginia Tech Civil Engineering (CE) Professor Raymond Plaut, who has received a 1998 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
Plaut is one of 11 faculty members selected from among 75 nominees at colleges and universities throughout Virginia to be recognized by SCHEV for excellence in teaching, research and public service. Fran Bradford of SCHEV's administrative staff termed the award "the commonwealth's highest honor for college and university faculty."
Plaut grew up in Hollywood and attended the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. His first teaching experience, during graduate school, was voluntary tutoring of illiterate inmates at San Quentin prison. After receiving his Ph.D. in applied mechanics, he joined the faculty of Brown University.
Since coming to Virginia Tech in 1975 as the university's youngest full professor at that time, Plaut has become the only Tech faculty member to receive both the Alumni Association W.E. Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching and the association's Award for Research Excellence. He has received five University Certificates of Teaching Excellence, the Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Civil Engineering Education from the Tech student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award from the Cumberland District of the national CE honor society Chi Epsilon. In 1979, he was elected to the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence.
"Ray cares about the students," said Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, formerly CE department head and dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, in a letter supporting Plaut's nomination for the SCHEV award.
"Dr. Plaut is a `student's professor' because he places his pupils first. We always knew that we could find him in his office at any hour of the day welcoming the questions of an inquiring student. Looking back at my studies under Ray Plaut, I can easily see his contribution to my career at American Electric Power," said Archie Pugh, formerly a student of Plaut's and now a project engineer for AEP.
Plaut, who in 1992 was appointed as the first D.H. Pletta professor of engineering, is internationally known for his research in the use of inflatable dams to prevent loss of life and property during floods. For about 15 years, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Plaut has investigated effective uses of inflatable dams and breakwaters to provide flood control for shorelines, towns, homes, and critical facilities such as water-treatment plants and nuclear power plants. He has been interviewed on The Weather Channel, ABC's Good Morning America, and CNN, and his research has been cited by the London Sunday Times, several newspapers in Asia, and the Environmental News Network's World Wide Web site.
Plaut's studies of damage minimization extend into several other areas, including analysis of structural responses to earthquakes and terrorist bombs. He has published more than 140 papers in journals and 30 papers in conference proceedings. In 1981 he received both a NATO Senior Fellowship and a Fulbright Travel Grant, and he has held visiting-faculty positions at universities in Canada, England and Denmark. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and of the American Academy of Mechanics.
In service to Virginia Tech, Plaut has been an active member of numerous university, college and department committees. He is faculty advisor for the Chi Epsilon Honor Society. His commitments to the engineering profession include serving on technical committees of the ASCE and ASME, and acting as an associate editor and editorial board member for several technical journals.
Plaut has never taken time away from teaching and university research for consulting jobs. "Ray Plaut represents the finest attributes that we would ever seek in a faculty member," said CE Department Head William Knocke. "He gives of himself without concern for personal recognition or financial reward. What matters to Ray is that students are cared for, challenged and supported in their educational pursuits, and given full opportunity to succeed."