Contributions to chemical engineering earn high honors for ASU professor

May 9, 2022

Throughout his career, Daniel E. Rivera has been dedicated to using his chemical engineering expertise to make an impact.

From his work in industry at Shell Development Company to earning a Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health to help fight drug abuse, Rivera has developed a keen understanding of the importance of chemical engineering in today’s society. Portriat of ASU Professor Daniel E. Rivera surrounded by a helix pattern. Chemical engineering, process control and education achievements earn ASU Professor Daniel E. Rivera Fellow recognition status in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image

Rivera, a professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, was recently named a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or AIChE, for his continuing standout work in the field. The institute is the world’s leading organization of chemical engineering professionals, with more than 60,000 members from over 110 countries.

Fellow is the instiute's highest grade of membership. Only 5% of the total membership receive this classification. The designation, based on nomination by peers, honors and recognizes AIChE members for their accomplishments and service.

The institute defines professional accomplishments as “success in process, product or theoretical developments, project leadership, managerial achievement, the educating of engineers or other activities related to chemical engineering.” Rivera has made prolific contributions in all of these categories, as described by his colleagues: ASU Regents Professor Jerry Lin, who provided a letter of support for Rivera’s fellow nomination, and Professor George Stephanopoulos, who submitted the nomination. Both are fellows of the institute and faculty members in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the seven Fulton Schools.

“Daniel has made important contributions to chemical engineering education at ASU. In the past 31 years, Daniel has taught courses at all levels, from freshman engineering through graduate-level topics,” Lin says. “He has distinguished himself in particular in teaching computationally-oriented courses in the chemical engineering curriculum to over 1,250 undergraduates at ASU.”

Stephanopoulos is Rivera’s “academic grandfather” — meaning Stephanopolous advised Rivera’s doctoral adviser — and has known Rivera since he was a grad student at Caltech. He is excited to see his academic-descendant-turned-colleague earn this esteemed elevation in AIChE.

“Daniel’s body of work in control systems has been highly transdisciplinary, addressing topics such as semiconductor manufacturing, supply chain management and behavioral medicine,” Stephanopoulos says. “These are all themes that are of significant importance to the economic activities in the Phoenix metropolitan area and to ASU.”

Stephanopoulos also notes Rivera’s development of innovative computer-aided instructional tools for process control education, and the popularity of his engaging courses taught at ASU and around the world.

Lenore Dai, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, points out Rivera’s wide-reaching contributions to his field.

“Dr. Rivera’s recognition is well-deserved; his research on robust process control, system identification and their various applications have had tremendous impact, both from fundamental and practical standpoints,” Dai says.

Receiving this distinguished honor from the institute is especially meaningful for Rivera, as he has been involved with the institute for nearly 40 years.

“The recognition from AIChE is greatly appreciated,” Rivera says. “We face all types of challenges and obstacles in our pursuit of the vision of ASU as the New American University, so it is rewarding and humbling to have such an important professional organization like AIChE recognize those efforts and believe in us.”

Rivera joined ASU in 1990 after spending nearly four years in the control systems section of Shell Development Company, and has built an incredible career at ASU since that time. Currently, Rivera is the longest-serving Hispanic member of the Fulton Schools faculty.

Throughout his academic career, Rivera’s research interests have been quite diverse, from studying obesity solutions to managing production inventory systems with a control systems engineering approach. He has also stood out for his contributions to computer-based education.

Rivera’s research benefits society in several ways. For example, Rivera has explored the extension of control systems engineering techniques as it relates to behavioral medicine. Additionally, Rivera has developed techniques that can be applied to both optimize operations and ensure safety across various work settings, including petrochemical refineries.

Most recently, Rivera is applying his expertise in control systems engineering and dynamic modeling techniques to improve the effectiveness of alerts from mobile health apps. He’s working with collaborators to develop data-driven models that will inform decision algorithms when users will be the most receptive to nudges from their devices to stand up or go for a walk.

Overall, he strives to conduct research that can have a broad spectrum of applications to solve key issues facing society, from supply chain management to improving health.

For his standout work, Rivera has earned multiple accolades throughout his career. Last year, he was named a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine for his outstanding contributions to advances in the science and practice of behavioral medicine and its interdisciplinary approaches. In 2020, he received the David Himmelblau Award for Innovations in Computer-Based Chemical Engineering Education from the AIChE Computing and Systems Technology, or CAST, division. He also received a Distinguished Member Award from the IEEE Control Systems Society in 2019. In addition to other honors, he has been invited to numerous events over the past three decades to speak about his work.

In his career, Rivera has also been a prolific publisher, with 82 peer-reviewed research journal articles and 121 refereed conference proceedings papers.

Rivera has one patent based on his work, and is co-developer of the Internal Model Control Proportional-Integral-Derivative, or PID, controller tuning rules that are widely used in industrial control systems. These tuning rules have been included in every major process control textbook written in the past three decades.

Receiving AIChE Fellow status is the culmination of Rivera’s dedication and multidisciplinary approach to the field of chemical engineering. Ultimately, for Rivera, chemical engineering is about helping others by leveraging his expertise and experience to create innovative solutions — which have been a hallmark of his career.

“Chemical engineering as a field is very accepting and inclusive of principles from physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, and using these in diverse settings,” Rivera says. “Chemical engineering is such a broadly applicable discipline that addressing the pressing needs of society will always demand the skills of well-trained chemical engineers.”

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

‘Making the impossible commonplace’: Expat in Libya earns 2nd ASU degree

Obstacles didn't deter Master of Science in organizational leadership graduate

May 9, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Like many students who choose to complete Arizona State University degrees online, Asmaa Khalifa had life responsibilities to juggle while completing her master’s degree that many of her classmates could identify with: Parent, homeschooler of her three children, caregiver to an elder. Portrait of ASU Master of Science in Organizational Leadership 2022 graduate Asmaa Khalifa. Asmaa Khalifa, who earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies in ASU's College of Integrative Sciences and Arts in 2017, has now completed the Master of Science in organizational leadership. Khalifa hopes to eventually complete a doctorate: "I would like to teach undergraduates as well as continue to develop my theory on everyday leadership," said Khalifa. Download Full Image

But some of the other challenges this College of Integrative Sciences and Arts student faced down were almost unfathomable to peers.

“Because of my unique geographic location, there was always the time difference (I am GMT+2, so nine hours ahead of Arizona now),” noted Khalifa, whose hometown is Lancaster, California, but who has lived in Tripoli, Libya, where her husband’s family is from, for two decades. “But having been through a revolution, being an expatriate in Libya, calling on my experiences as a displaced person, and honoring my culture and traditions — which never coincided with coursework — was quite beyond what I was hearing from my peers in and out of the classroom.

“I quickly came to realize that the Libyan adage ‘The fingers on your hand are not the same length’ is more descriptive of my experience than I wanted to admit at the time,” she said, looking back on the last two years.

Recognizing the extraordinary context within which Khalifa was working, the faculty in the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program rallied around her.

Khalifa, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, was one of the first students to enroll in the organizational leadership master’s program.

Leadership and integrative studies Senior Lecturer L. Marie Walllace met her early in the program and worked closely with Khalifa on a project for the elective course OGL 554: Learning and Development in Organizations.

“This was one of the first courses she took in the graduate program, and when it became apparent that the research she was interested in pursuing might be roadblocked because Libya was one of the three countries ASU’s Institutional Review Board did not have approved IRB protocols for, rather than being dissuaded, Asmaa developed a training  protocol for the Ministry of Education in Libya to create the protocols,” said Wallace, “and has them ready to implement on a large scale when the time is appropriate.”

Wallace recommended that Khalifa ask Robert Kirsch, director of the master’s program, to serve as her thesis adviser because, she said, “he has a level of expertise in political science and critical leadership studies, a relatively new and burgeoning field that intersects well with Asmaa’s academic interests.

“I also knew he had the empathy to be sensitive to the cultural milieu in which she functions, related to the expectations of motherhood and being a daughter-in-law in Libya. Asmaa faces obstacles that many students do not encounter. She has to worry about her family's safety and well-being in a way that is quite unfamiliar to most of our students (I heard the bomb sirens when meeting with her once). She often has to deal with unstable internet and inconsistent infrastructure. Robert worked with her every Wednesday for three consecutive terms via Zoom. It became a part of his routine.

“Her thesis is incredible. She focused on informal and everyday leadership related to improving secondary education in Libya. Her ideas were so well developed and her data told an amazing story of people coming together to exhibit everyday leadership to enhance their children's experience and enhance their community in general.”

Khalifa plans to pursue a doctoral degree eventually, “though it is further down the line in my career,” she said. “I would like to teach undergraduates as well as continue to develop my theory on everyday leadership. The possibilities are a bit daunting right now, but I am looking at ways to expand the discipline here in North Africa,” Khalifa said.

She wants people to recognize that leadership is not exclusive to formal organizations: “I think too often heroism can be conflated with everyday leadership, because people typically do not associate leadership with everyday people contributing to their communities on a regular basis.”

Friends in the states often ask her why she doesn’t just return home to the U.S., given the political instability and infrastructure challenges that continue in Libya.

“… I believe that working hard and doing everything that is in my power to survive and thrive is the only way to go through life,” she tells them, in addition to emphasizing not wanting to live as a family divided. “I do not believe in quitting. I believe in making the impossible commonplace.”

Khalifa shared these additional reflections about her ASU journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study organizational leadership?

Answer: The process was more trial and error than anything. As an undergrad, I meandered around the social sciences and tried out different disciplines while completing my degree requirements. I had taken an organizational leadership course; I liked it. I enrolled in another and liked that as well. The term after that, I pursued a minor in organizational leadership. The discipline manifested itself over time through getting to know more about what it entailed and how it is applied, more than a sudden realization.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was a good fit for me because the program I chose was completely online. I had received my undergrad degree from ASU and was happily surprised at the invitation from CISA when the master’s program in organizational leadership began. It was an easy choice.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I’ve learned so much more than just the coursework that I couldn’t narrow that experience down to one person or lesson. The top three for me would be:

  1. Robert Kirsch for teaching me to take a deeper look and have enough courage to apply my own lens rather than just relying on those scholars that came before me. He taught me that my perspective is just as valid and critical to the discipline as any other. This really translates to so much more.
  2. L. Marie Wallace for teaching me that there is always another option and that there is no shame in asking. This went against so much of how I saw myself as a student and as a person in general. It was an eye-opening revelation.
  3. Mai P. Trinh for teaching me that it is OK to admit weakness and offer my strengths in collaboration. She taught me that teamwork and lifting one another through open communication helps us all take a step towards our shared goals.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Document as much as you can. You are learning for a reason. You will need these lessons in your future endeavors and will need to call on your past knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences. It is much easier to tap into that wealth of information when you leave breadcrumbs. If it seems important in the moment, write it down; you can always edit later. Just get it out of your mind and in a form other than your memory. Never be afraid to ask a reasonable question. Professors were students, and they care a lot more than students think; just don’t wait until the eleventh hour.

Q: Did you have a favorite spot for studying?

A: I have studied just about everywhere you can imagine, but I don’t have a favorite spot. I have a favorite device, stationary, cup of coffee. It’s more about ambience for me than location. In general, I have a designated spot that I study in my home. This is to demarcate my time and focus so my children and spouse can pretend I am not in the same place as them for some time.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I believe that solutions are proximal and that as humans we lead and are led because we are passionate about the person or the cause or both. Whatever be the case, we need to provide people with tools to muster the courage to act and share with them the knowledge of how to do so safely and sustainably. Tools without the knowledge to use them and knowledge without tools may mutually exclude themselves for lack of action. For me, the $40 million would translate to investing in Libya and North Africa in general. I would begin with increasing the economic opportunities for women in business in the MENAMENA, an acronym in the English language, refers to a grouping of countries situated in and around the Middle East and North Africa. region. This would be accomplished through grass roots advocacy campaigns that inform and invest in small businesses owned by women, while at the same time tapping into the power of professional successful women in business to provide mentorships and help change local and regional policies and perceptions of women’s roles in business. The program, with the help of nonprofit NGOs, could grow from there, but the program must provide for the next level of women in business and not be a single event or period of time.

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts