Meet Dr. Pamela Eibeck, a former professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering here at UC Berkeley. After working in gas systems design at Pacific Gas and Electric and attending grad school, Dr. Eibeck was a professor in the department from 1985 to 1995.
Since then, Dr. Eibeck went on to become the Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies at Northern Arizona University, the Dean of Engineering at Texas Tech University, and for the past ten years, the President of the University of the Pacific. Dr. Eibeck retired from her role as president last July and moved to a four-acre farm in the Central Valley with her husband, where they enjoy gardening, traveling, and camping.
What interested you in mechanical engineering?
I was very interested in nuclear energy and alternative energy systems. Funding for energy systems dried up by the time I went to graduate school, but I discovered that the science related to energy and thermal systems (engines, aerospace) was fascinating.
What is your research area within mechanical engineering?
I studied surface heating and how that was related to flow patterns. I was an experimentalist and built a wind tunnel as well as water channels to study localized overheating due to horseshoe vortices (a limiting factor for turbines and re-entry vehicles) and localized overheating in electronic systems (overheating was a major factor in advanced computers then). I became very interested in how digital multimedia (such as videos, sound, and animation) and links to the then-new World Wide Web could be used to help students better learn engineering principles. These were brand new ideas then (hard to believe, eh?) and I enjoyed working with my colleague Professor Alice Agogino and others at UC Berkeley and faculty at other universities through an NSF Engineering Coalition grant.
When you were a professor at Berkeley, were there any other women faculty members in the department?
Alice Agogino had joined the department the year prior to me and was a wonderful colleague. Lisa Pruit arrived just as I left.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a faculty member?
Some challenges were the same as any other junior faculty member at a top research university; life-work balance. There was tremendous pressure to create a well-funded and world-class research program at UCB while my husband and I were raising four kids and I was commuting from Palo Alto. Some challenges I faced were because, as a woman, I felt “different” than my colleagues and felt I didn’t really belong – in spite of the gracious way nearly all faculty members in the department treated me.
What are some of your favorite memories from Berkeley?
I loved teaching and spending time with students and seeing their faces light up when they figured something out. Working with colleagues on multimedia learning was exciting because we could envision the huge change in learning that was ahead. Running up Strawberry Canyon (actually completing the run up Strawberry Canyon – it was a hard run!) But my favorite memory – other than the people – was walking on the campus along Observatory Hill, along Strawberry Creek, and especially near the Faculty Glade.
Did you have a lab while you were at Berkeley, and if so, what kind of research did your group do?
I had two labs – one near my office in Etcheverry Hall where we did electronics cooling and a wind tunnel lab in Davis Hall where we did the vortex heat transfer work.
Do you have any advice for graduate students thinking about becoming faculty members?
Academe is a wonderful career where you can pursue your intellectual passion and make a positive difference to society – from having breakthroughs in technology to impacting the lives of students through their learning and mentoring. But be ready to embrace change since fewer students can afford tuition and fees and the state and federal government aren’t able to subsidize the costs of research and operations as they had in the past.