Faculty

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Nunez

The faculty who teach students in Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) come from around the world and bring with them culture, diversity, experiences and expertise – a combination that is as unique as each person. Professor Manuel Nunez does not disappoint, letting us see a glimpse into the life experiences that shaped him as an instructor and researcher at the University of Connecticut.

Professor Nunez came to UConn from the second largest city in Costa Rica, called Alajuela. He still has friends and family there that he misses, but says he also really misses the soccer. Alajuela is home to a professional soccer team, La Liga, of which Nunez says he is an avid fan.

Professor Manuel NunezEven while missing home, Nunez always wanted to come to the United States, even as a young child. He has always enjoyed US culture, music, values and way of life, so that made adjusting to the American way of life a little easier for him. He loves the culture, so he has always felt at home here. He says the biggest adjustment was driving in bad weather conditions in New England winters.

Nunez is a big professional sports fan in America too. His favorite teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers, and the New England Patriots.

For fun, Nunez likes to read, collect and play board games, collect playing card and Tarot decks and Star Trek memorabilia. He reads about two books per week and his favorite reading genre is science fiction. He is also a Star Trek fan. He also likes to read about history and general science as well. He also enjoys mental challenges as a mathematician, and he assembles scale model kits and solves various puzzles.

As a faculty member and researcher, Nunez enjoys contributing new ideas and concepts, and he especially enjoys transferring his knowledge to his students.

“It is a very fulfilling lifestyle,” Nunez says.

“As a researcher, it is very exciting to face challenging problems and try to find new solutions to those problems,” he says. “As part of this process, I learn more about new subjects and methodologies.”

He recalls as a freshmen in college himself, one of his professors told him that if he constantly wonders about how to improve things, he should study Operations Research (OR). Nunez took that idea and found he really enjoyed the mathematical aspects of OR – proving theorems, developing algorithms and creating new models of everyday situations.

Nunez teaches Computers in Manufacturing for the MEM program, Adaptive Business Intelligence (ABI) for the MS BAPM program and the Operations Management Seminar for the OPIM doctoral program.

“I have taught the computers in manufacturing class for more than 20 years and it has evolved a lot,” he says. “Students like it because it teaches them skills they can readily use in their jobs, internships and senior design projects.”

Nunez says he is not a specialist on a very narrow research field and that his work touches on many different subjects. He says he sees a promising future in studying the business implications and applications of using cutting edge technologies such as quantum computing. “Through my lifetime I have witnessed the profound effects that the arrival of new computer technologies had in business and society in general. I believe that eventually quantum computing will become more prevalent and have similar effects.”

Nunez says his favorite part of his work is interacting with people, teaching young people and seeing them transitioning into professionals, working with stimulating colleagues, and appreciating that the university is a place for open-mindedness, research and learning.

Dr. Xu – MEM Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Hongyi Xu might not look like your average university professor, and some of his students may have wondered if he was not the graduate teaching assistant for the course as opposed to the actual class professor, but don’t let his youthful appearance fool you. Dr. Xu is a qualified and highly skilled instructor for the Mechanical Engineering Department as well as for the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing program at the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Hongi XuAfter earning his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University in 2014, he began his career in industry at the Ford Motor Company as a Research Engineer. While there he led and participated in a variety of research projects including passive safety, in which he worked to design structures to protect the occupant of a vehicle, structure optimization for vehicle lightweighting, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) of carbon fiber composites, Lithium-only battery impact safety, fuel cell membrane analysis, and the design of mesostructured-structure systems for additive manufacturing.

After leaving Ford Motor Company, he joined the University of Connecticut as an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering. Here, he teaches two courses: MEM 3221 / ME 3295 Introduction to Products and Processes, as well as SE 5702 / ME 5702, a grad level course on Data Science for Materials and Manufacturing.

“I really like teaching [MEM 3221],” Xu said. “The interesting thing about this class is that every year we will finalize some project from a local business or manufacturer and get those real experiences.

He explains that this year, he is working with Connecticut Small Business Development Center to connect with small businesses and manufacturers in Connecticut.

“They propose an idea and we pick which ideas to work on so it closely relates to the course,” he said. “This year we are working with a company the manufactures baby cradles.”

“The 5702 course is also a lot of fun to teach,” Xu said. “It is a diverse student body including recent grads and seasoned engineers in industry, so there are a lot of differing opinions and thoughts on the same topic and the younger students really benefit from the experience that professionals bring as it relates to real world working styles.”

Dr. Xu Research

At UConn, his research focuses on developing design optimization and uncertainty quantification methods for the analysis and design of heterogeneous microstructural materials. His research interests also include Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) and data mining-enhanced multi-disciplinary optimization. He also collaborates with the MIT Battery Consortium and has two additional project proposals for which he awaiting funding from outside sources.

While in industry, Xu enjoyed the work life balance and the resources that were available he also has found aspects he loves about working at a university.

“I enjoyed working at Ford where there were a lot of resources and you can always find real world ways to test what you’re developing; however, working at UConn, I have a lot of freedom to work on projects that I want to work on. I am responsible for everything but also in charge of what research I choose, and that ability to shape my research based on my interests, and also getting to interact with students more, is a really nice benefit to university work,” he said.

When Dr. Xu is not working on his many research projects or teaching his courses at UConn, he enjoys playing soccer when he can find others to play with, and flower gardening, a hobby which he picked up during the closures in 2020 and 2021.

Associate Professor Awarded Grant for Manufacturing Sustainability

Liang ZhangDr. Liang Zhang, Associate Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and MEM Faculty member, was recently awarded a grant that could change the face of Connecticut manufacturing. In a partnership between the University of Connecticut and the University of New Haven, Dr. Zhang will be leading the UConn team as they participate in a massive national research effort to help local manufacturers reduce their carbon footprint.

UConn Today has the full story. Click to read more.