Dr. Oleg Yakimenko, Professor in the NPS Department of Systems Engineering and founding director of the Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Center (ADSC) and the Autonomous Systems Engineering and Integration Laboratory (ASEIL), has earned the 2019 Richard W. Hamming Faculty Award for Interdisciplinary Achievement.
“I am honored to have been selected for the Hamming Award and I owe a lot of that to the talented students that I have worked with at NPS,” said Yakimenko. “For my 31-year career in graduate and doctoral teaching, I have been very fortunate with having great students who have become cosmonauts, test directors, professors, software and hardware developers, researchers and businesspersons.”
Yakimenko went on to say it is the “absence of fear to discover new things” that can widen horizons, and increase curiosity, knowledge, open-mindedness and professionalism, all what he hoped his students carried out from his classroom.
Yakimenko came to NPS in 1998, first as a National Research Council Senior Researcher in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, then joining the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). He was tenured by the Department of Systems Engineering in 2011, and now holds a joint appointment with the MAE. Throughout his years at NPS, Yakimenko has taken significant efforts to develop and support interdisciplinary courses and curricula.
Dr. Yakimenko’s cutting-edge research, experience and dedication to student success makes him in high demand as a thesis advisor. During his teaching career, which includes his 21-year tenure at NPS, Yakimenko has advised more than a hundred master’s and doctoral students. In the past five years alone, he was the primary advisor for 35 master’s and four doctoral students.
“I think my role is to show my students the current state-of-the-art, both theoretical and technological, and get them interested and involved into real-world projects that will impact the Navy, Army, Air Force and NASA,” said Yakimenko. “I am also trying to work with faculty and students from other departments, schools and universities allowing students to benefit from a multi-disciplinary and multi-university environment.”
Yakimenko has worked hard through the years with fellow faculty and students to close the divide between multiple disciplines, such as robotics and unmanned systems.
“Working with faculty and students from different curricula on interdisciplinary projects, and I would say all projects involving building and testing robotic systems are interdisciplinary, which benefits everyone,” said Yakimenko. “Crossing the boundary between disciplines results in looking at seemingly the same problem from different angles, which forces you to study the approaches and methods used in another discipline.
“It inspires imagination and creativity and allows learning from each other,” he added.
Systems Engineering professor Chair Ronald Giachetti echoes the Hamming Interdisciplinary Award selection committee’s high praise for Yakimenko’s rigorous teaching methods, and especially the concrete results his students have attained.
“Oleg and his students have been especially prolific in the development of unmanned systems,” said Giachetti. “What makes Oleg’s contribution especially valuable is all of his students build actual systems and test them in the field. He has led student teams who built rockets that were launched in the Mojave desert, ground and aerial robots tested at Impossible City in Fort Ord, as well as countless unmanned aerial vehicles tested at Camp Roberts.
“We are fortunate to have him as a member of the Systems Engineering Department,” he concluded.
Part of Yakimenko’s teaching method, which can be intimidating to students, is to challenge students to conduct hands-on testing of their theories.
“Students often say that I am establishing too high a standard, which are difficult to meet,” said Yakimenko. “As a reward though, student research often results in publication or a patent.”
Ultimately, Yakimenko builds trust with his students as he guides them out of their comfort zone which he says is the building block for intellectual growth and critical thinking. And Yakimenko has also learned from his students.
“Our student body is unique in that they have real operational experience, and they know about failures and successes, and advantages and disadvantages of current technological solutions from their deployments,” said Yakimenko. “As a result, advising students always enriches me with new knowledge, shows a different perspective, and often suggests new directions for my research.”
The Richard W. Hamming Faculty Award for Interdisciplinary Achievement, named after NPS professor emeritus Dr. Richard W. Hamming, highlights one faculty member annually that demonstrates a commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship and exceptional teaching skills. Hamming's dedication to teaching and research are well known, specifically in the mathematics, computer science and telecommunications fields of study. Hamming taught at NPS as an adjunct Professor from 1976 to 1997.