Vakalis holds many distinguished roles as a professor of mathematics and computer science, executive director of the Center of Computational Studies at Capital University, and educational coordinator of a statewide initiative in computational science. He was awarded for his innovation, educational impact, and breadth in developing and implementing educational materials for Computational Engineering and Sciences (CES).
"It is a great honor to win the UCES award given by the Krell Institute and sponsored by the Department of Energy," Vakalis said. "For the last seven years I've had the chance to work with many talented and passionate educators and researchers, and I was given the chance to form a consortia of institutions for the purpose of developing computational science educational materials and curricula for the undergraduate arena."
The UCES project bestows the award to promote excellence in computational science and education. Awards are given to faculty, students, or members of other organizations who make significant and innovative contributions in computational science education. This is the twelfth year for the prestigious award.
Vakalis is responsible for developing computational engineering and science course material, including the posting of web tools with cross-disciplinary impact, and for outreach through the establishment of the Keck Undergraduate Computational Science Education Consortium.
Vakalis is also a co-principle investigator on a $250,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) research project to help educators and researchers develop computational science instructional guidelines and shared educational curriculum for undergraduate students attending Ohio colleges. Educators and researchers at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), Capital University, and the Ohio Learning Network (OLN) are leading the two-year study to improve and standardize undergraduate computational sciences course curriculum.
Research on improving cyber-infrastructure is coordinated and assisted by OSC and involves faculty and students from a consortium of nine Ohio schools that are developing computational science modules for delivering course content tailored to community, four-year, and minority-serving colleges. The materials meet educational objectives for computer science courses, and Internet video technologies facilitate shared instruction over Ohio's Third Frontier Network (TFN).
Computational science is a key factor in understanding science. It is indispensable to solving complex problems in every sector from traditional science and engineering to such vital areas as national security, public health and economic innovation. Computational models capture and analyze vast amounts of experimental and observational data and address problems previously deemed intractable or beyond imagination. Computational science affords the opportunity to view and investigate phenomena like tiny atoms, large galaxies, the rapid process of photosynthesis, complex aircraft engines and much more.
Undergraduate computational science programs are critical to education because they are the technical force of the future. These programs invigorate students to pursue graduate work and prepare future mathematics and science teachers for secondary education. Therefore, the greatest impact of reform is taking place at the undergraduate levels.
"My goal for developing the computational science coursework is that students will see the beauty and the practical use of computational science," said Vakalis. "I want students to be aware of the intersection and interplay among mathematics, computing and science."
Vakalis serves as project director for the Keck consortium and is Capital University's principal investigator for the grant awarded from the W. M. Keck Foundation. The consortium includes 12 institutions across the country: Capital University, College of the Holly Cross, Harvey Mudd College, The Ohio State University, Pomona College, San Diego State University, San Diego Supercomputer Center, Shodor Education Foundation, Skidmore College, University of Wisconsin - Eau-Claire, Wittenberg University and Wofford College.
The consortium serves as a model for institutions to collaborate and develop computational science materials and curricula. It also serves as a catalyst in forming a new consortium of institutions. Consortium goals are to develop class-tested educational materials for a variety of computational science courses, infuse computational science curricula to member institutions, and prepare the next generation of scientists so they are equipped with the necessary computational tools.