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Black History Month
2022 Honoree

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Dan Eckhardt

Dan Eckhardt

Lead, Electric Propulsion

P.I. V&V and Optimization using Nonlinear Dynamical Systems Theory in Electric Propulsion Devices

Air Force Research Laboratory

United States Space Force

Where are you from?

I am a Chicagoan but I have lived in various places and feel at home in many places, especially here in Southern California. I went to college at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, IL where I earned a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. I received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, where I worked under Professor Isom Herron.

 

Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/cultivate your interest in the Mathematical Sciences.

I have always liked math and I was decent at it throughout school but it never occurred to me that I could get a degree in it, let alone pursue a career as a Mathematician. I was always good at fixing electronics and constantly annoyed my mother whenever I tried to “fix” the T.V. Therefore, it seemed natural that I should pursue a career in Electrical Engineering; hence, that is what I majored in when I enrolled at IIT. Because I had earned my A’ Levels prior, I started out as a late sophomore/ early junior and I tested out of all the required Mathematics classes for my major. Electrical Engineering classes were interesting and challenging but felt lacking, perhaps because the Math involved was not very engaging. The class sizes were large compared to what I was used to and hoped for when I decided to attend a smaller school, and thus it was easy for me to get lost in the background. My grades suffered consequently and contributed to my decision to leave school.

During this time off school, I tutored for Chicago HOPES for kids, which I tremendously enjoyed and this convinced me that I perhaps I should consider becoming a teacher. Per chance, I happened to read the book 50 mathematical ideas you really need to know, by Tony Crilly, and a whole new world of Mathematics and it’s applications opened up to me. This inspired me to do more research on what it meant to get a degree in Mathematics and what sorts of things one could do with it. I had thought teaching was the only career possible with a Math degree, but this helped me discover more possibilities. Thus, when I went back to college I had decided to add an Applied Mathematics major and I have not looked back since.

I cannot talk about inspiration for my career path without mentioning the various Mathematics mentors who have helped me along the way, including Dr. Suzanne Weekes, Dr. Marcel Blais, Dr. Fred Hickernell, Dr. Isom Herron and the late Dr. Joyce McLaughlin, among many folks who’ve inspired me over the years and given me the resilience to pursue this path. The passion they demonstrated in their careers, and their mentorship and advice helped me through some of the tougher times of pursuing my Ph.D.

 

 What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your career in the Mathematical Sciences?

Completing my Ph.D. in Mathematics has to be one of my proudest accomplishments in my career – so far. I am also extremely proud to be in a position to work alongside exceptional people both civilian and in uniform, leading and working towards developing advanced propulsion systems to support the United States National Security Space Enterprise, both for military and civilian applications.

 

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your personal life?

Personally, I am proud that I have been able to continue the culture of mentorship that I credit with getting me where I am today. For the last 4 years, I have worked as an industry mentor for IPAM RIPS REU, working with undergraduate mathematics students on research problems relevant to the USAF/USSF.

 

Finally, please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

I think it is important for people to follow their imagination and dreams despite not having a clear path towards those objectives. Even if you don’t see anyone who looks like you in the places you would like to be, continue working towards those goals and don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong there or don’t deserve it.