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Avinash Unnikrishnan, Ph.D., a transportation engineer whose interdisciplinary research program spans areas ranging from freight and logistics to autonomous vehicles to the health impact of extreme weather events, will bring his vision for incorporating computation and data science into civil engineering to Birmingham later this year when he becomes the chair of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering in the UAB School of Engineering.

Unnikrishnan will be the fifth chair in the history of the department and the first Fouad H. Fouad Endowed Professor, holding the professorship established in honor of his predecessor, Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., who retired from UAB in 2021 after 25 years as chair. Unnikrishnan will begin his new role on August 15, 2023.

“Avi is a perfect fit for UAB Engineering,” said Jeff Holmes, Dean of the School of Engineering. “He comes from an institution with similar priorities, and shares our belief in the value of internships and hands-on learning to prepare students for industry. He has a strong track record of innovative approaches in the classroom and in his research. He has broad research interests that will connect to our government and industry partners in Birmingham and Alabama as well as to Computer Science, Public Health, and other areas of strength here on campus. And he is at the forefront of incorporating modern data science and computational techniques into civil engineering education and practice.”

Unnikrishnan comes to UAB from Portland State, where he is the David E. Wedge Vision Professor in the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science and Associate Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“UAB is a young urban university with a strong research program. When I reviewed the university and college strategic plan and interacted with faculty and staff, there were many aspects that I identified with and liked – emphasis on DEI, community engagement, focusing on grand research challenges, and developing socially conscious global citizens. I am honored to be given this opportunity to lead UAB CCEE and am excited to contribute to the growth of the research and education mission of the CCEE department.”

Unnikrishnan earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in operations research from Indian Institute of Technology Madras. He moved to the United States in 2002, where he received a master’s degree from Vanderbilt (’04) and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas (’08). Both degrees were in transportation engineering.

Unnikrishnan began his faculty career at West Virginia University, and moved to Portland State in 2015. At those stops, he expanded his research to include smart urban network mobility optimization, freight and logistics, resilient network infrastructure systems, human health, and innovative content delivery with regard to undergraduate education.

As an educator, Unnikrishnan has earned multiple awards and distinctions for excellence in both teaching and advising, and has mentored dozens of students from the undergraduate to post-doctoral levels.

At UAB, he says he hopes to leverage the department’s existing collaborations with local communities, industry leaders, and other UAB researchers to continue to grow the department’s influence in Birmingham and the region.

“Civil engineering at UAB has the potential to be a leader in bold, large-scale transdisciplinary initiatives along strategic research themes,” he said. “Birmingham is a testbed for research and community engagement on equitable, intelligent, and sustainable infrastructure. I hope to explore new ideas to enhance the student experience, learning, and innovation capacity at all levels.”