Relationship builder
Author: Paige Parker
Posted: September 15, 2017

Rahmat Shoureshi begins a new era as president of Portland State University.

IN THE EARLY 2000s, Lockheed Martin Corporation had fighter jets and communication satellites to build, and a shortage of engineers with advanced degrees to design them. A program to pay their graduate school tuition had floundered because universities were reluctant to adjust their class hours to accommodate the working engineers' full-time schedules.

That is, until a Lockheed Martin executive met Rahmat Shoureshi, then dean of the engineering school at the University of Denver. Shoureshi offered to schedule evening graduate-level classes. Then he went a step further, remembers Michael Ragole, retired Lockheed Martin director of engineering resources and development.

Shoureshi sent the professors to teach on Lockheed Martin’s Littleton, Colorado, campus.

Ragole wanted to make it worthwhile for the university and promised that at least 10 engineers would enroll in those first master’s in engineering classes. Today, more than 300 engineers have earned master’s as well as doctorate degrees through an expanded program now offered by video-conferencing in additional Lockheed offices.

The company’s pipeline of highly skilled engineers looks fuller these days. “Without Rahmat, it never would have happened,” Ragole says.

Shoureshi hopes to put that same resourcefulness and problem-solving to work as Portland State’s new president. He formally took over on August 14, following six years as the provost and interim president of the New York Institute of Technology.

Colleagues, partners and former students of Shoureshi say the PSU community can expect a leader who is keenly focused on students’ needs and who will find new ways to collaborate across the campus, city and region to build the University’s stature and strengthen it financially.

He brings an engineer’s mindset and a penchant for making connections to the position.

“What I’ve done in the past is identify key areas and focus on developing the strategies, resources and manpower to make them happen and be successful,” Shoureshi says. “That’s the strategy I want to use for Portland State. Get to know the faculty, get to know the culture, the areas of strength within PSU, and carve those niches that differentiate PSU from everybody else.”

SHOURESHI says his interest in engineering grew from his love of mathematics. As a fourth-grader in his native Iran he tutored seventh-grade math students. Shoureshi earned his bachelor’s degree from Sharif University of Technology—considered the MIT of Iran—before earning a master’s and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the irrefutable MIT in Massachusetts. His doctoral studies coincided with the American hostage crisis of the early 1980s. In light of that crisis, the MIT faculty senate took the approach of protecting its Iranian students from potential deportation, he says, and allowed them to finish their studies. 

Shoureshi’s personal experience gives him a window into the anxiety and fears of students from the six majority-Muslim countries affected by the travel ban executive order.

“We welcome students no matter their background or ideology,” Shoureshi says. “We as a university are going to make sure that our students are protected.”

One of Shoureshi’s early graduate students says his advisor treated him like family.

“He values people extraordinarily. If somebody is having a bad day or has been left out or feels ignored, he notices those things,” says Dave Swedes, now vice president of engineering and manufacturing for Valco Melton, a worldwide manufacturer of adhesive dispensing machinery.

Swedes kept in touch with Shoureshi, and their families recently reconnected for the first time in 25 years. 

In Shoureshi’s private office, Swedes noticed that, “He kept my thesis on his shelf with just three or four other students’. It showed me the depth that he values relationships with the people he works for and who work with him.”

Shoureshi counts his work with students as his greatest accomplishment.

“When you come out of a classroom and you feel like you made a difference with your students in terms of them learning something completely new, you can’t compare that feeling of satisfaction to anything else,” Shoureshi says. “I have supervised the theses of over 80 Ph.D. and master’s students, which means that together we have formulated their passions and their futures.”

AN ACTIVE researcher throughout his career, Shoureshi has authored more than 250 technical publications. He is an expert in automation, control systems design and artificial intelligence, and revels in applying his mechanical engineering knowledge to unfamiliar fields and developing new technology. Even as a dean and provost, he maintained his research and advised graduate students. He is interested in continuing some level of research in collaboration with other faculty at PSU.

Shoureshi was among the pioneers of the ideas behind smart buildings and smart appliances, long before the Internet and wireless technology made it possible to order a pizza or turn down the thermostat with just one’s voice. He developed noise and vibration cancellation technology that is used in cars and on airplanes. Shoureshi recently designed a smart shoe insole (IntelliSole) that monitors movement, can prevent the elderly from falling and detect formation of foot ulcerations to prevent neuropathy in people with type 2 diabetes.

When encouraging faculty to pursue cross-disciplinary ideas, Shoureshi draws on his own experiences applying mechanical engineering principles to other fields.

For example, he developed the first mechatronic systems engineering program in the U.S. While dean of the engineering school at the University of Denver, he partnered with its business school when he set up Lockheed Martin’s systems engineering program. Engineering faculty taught two-thirds of the required courses, and business school faculty taught classes in program management. 

As provost of the New York Institute of Technology, Shoureshi oversaw the establishment of a Leadership in the Arts and Entertainment Industries master’s degree. The program is offered in partnership with a Broadway business that owns and manages theaters and presents musicals and plays in the United States and internationally. Students can work on projects such as launching a capital campaign for a performing arts facility or planning a production’s international tour. 

“He’s quite an entrepreneur,” says Paul Dangerfield, who was dean and executive director at the Vancouver, British Columbia, campus of the New York Institute of Technology when Shoureshi was provost of the six-campus NYIT system. “Previously, the (Vancouver) campus had no connections to the local business community,” says Dangerfield. “He encouraged those connections. When I put him in a room with business leaders he had no problem whatsoever coming up with ideas about what the next programs would be.” 

At PSU, Shoureshi will preside over the University’s efforts to boost enrollment and raise money. He drove research funding at NYIT to an all-time high. Tom Willoughby, recently retired vice chancellor of enrollment for the University of Denver, credits Shoureshi’s strategic planning and initial fundraising for the construction of a new $70 million school of engineering.

“He wasn’t here to see it built, but he was the one who built the relationships that led to it,” Willoughby says. “He really knows how to engage people, how to empower people. He brought the university community together in ways that it hadn’t been brought together before.”

Paige Parker is a staff member in the PSU Office of University Communications.

[caption] The University’s new president Rahmat Shoureshi is an experienced leader and an accomplished researcher who puts students’ needs first. Photo by Nikki De Leon.