Just weeks after high school graduation, Ali Gordon was working on computer programs with his physics professor at Morehouse College. It was a hot summer in Atlanta and Gordon was working from his professor’s stuffy, cramped office. With no computer to actually work on, and no budget to buy one, he had to write code with paper and a pencil.
While the conditions weren’t ideal, Gordon persevered through his first undergraduate research experience with poster presentations and technical reports to show for it. But the work itself wasn’t as important as the experience, which influenced him to follow a career path based on research and mentorship.
Now, as an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Gordon has been recognized for his support of budding researchers. He was one of two faculty members to receive the inaugural UCF
Champion of Undergraduate Research Award, which is designed to recognize faculty who are committed to fostering a culture of undergraduate research across the university.
“It’s really exciting for me to be recognized with this award, and I am very thankful for the Office of Undergraduate Research for establishing this honor,” Gordon said. “I am also quite humbled considering that this is its first year and that the selection committee is comprised of faculty peers.”
The committee selected Gordon for his philosophy of mentorship — challenging students to be successful problem-solvers and vanguards for our society, and to encourage them to pursue opportunities that push past their dreams — and his willingness to invite all students into the world of research.
Over the past 13 years that Gordon has served at UCF, he has mentored no less than 10 undergraduate students per semester, and has chaired more Honors in the Major thesis committees than any other faculty member within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He also leads the Mechanics of Materials Research Group, which has produced more than 30 journal articles co-authored by undergraduates.
This summer, Gordon and Associate Professor Jeffrey Kauffman will lead an NSF REU, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site funded by the National Science Foundation, on the UCF campus. As an undergraduate student at Morehouse College, Gordon participated in several REUs. He realizes that his experience has come full circle, and he hopes that, in turn, he will inspire this generation of undergraduate researchers to pay it forward just as he has.
“My path to the professoriate was very much enabled by proponents of undergraduate research,” Gordon said. “It’s gratifying to me to be able to contribute to identification and development of students who may have the potential to pursue faculty roles at some point.”