Eric Paterson, world-renowned expert in computational fluid dynamics and naval hydrodynamics, has been appointed executive director of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute.

“Dr. Eric Paterson has devoted his entire academic career to security-related research and is a world-renowned expert in computational fluid dynamics,” said Dan Sui, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. “Dr. Paterson is a proven academic leader who works tirelessly to advance the university core mission in research, education, and outreach. His broad interdisciplinary outlook and passion to train the next generation of national security leaders have made him the ideal inaugural executive director to lead the Virginia Tech National Security Institute.” 

Paterson has served as interim executive director for the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology for over two years and has led the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering as department head for almost 10 years.

“Building upon the Hume Center trajectory and its successful model of blending research execution, graduate education, and experiential learning, I look forward to steering the Virginia Tech National Security Institute into new areas and fostering partnerships across the entire university,” said Paterson, the Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor of Marine Propulsion. “By growing our applied research portfolio that also integrates student learning, this institute will enable Virginia Tech to help solve tomorrow’s national security challenges, and to deliver the workforce of the future.”

During his tenure at the Hume Center as interim director, research expenditures increased from $13 million to $18 million, while seeing rapid growth in the demand for the Hume Center education programs. Paterson was also engaged with the Office of Research and Innovation on the development of a dedicated space for security-related research in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center, which is now home to the newly launched Virginia Tech National Security Institute.

Through his visionary leadership and strategic management, as head of the department of aerospace and ocean engineering, Paterson made an immeasurable impact, setting the program on a trajectory for continued success for years to come. 

“Eric’s strong record of strategic and impactful leadership has defined his tenure as department head in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “His comprehensive understanding of the national security landscape, combined with his strong track record of industry partnerships and interdisciplinary collaboration, make him the ideal choice to lead Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute.”

With Paterson’s promotion as the director for Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute, Ross has appointed Robert Canfield interim department head of the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

In line with the College of Engineering’s strategic plan, Paterson provided leadership and advocacy for programming and efforts dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion; and has been an active partner with college and university leadership to support advancement initiatives such as stewardship of donors, alumni relations, and communications.

In conjunction with strategic faculty hires, the department’s research portfolio grew from $6 million in 2012 to $15 million in 2020. During that time, Paterson collaborated with his faculty and leadership team to establish of a number of key Virginia Tech research centers and instructional facilities including the Center for Renewable Energy and Aero/Hydrodynamic Technology, the NAVAIR-funded Virginia Tech Airworthiness Center, and the Advanced Propulsion and Power Laboratory. 

During his nine years as leader, the department has seen significant and unprecedented growth in terms of student demand and enrollment numbers and doubled the number of faculty, research expenditures and funding, and expanded existing and developed a number of new research and instructional facilities over the past decade.

To meet the rising student demand, faculty and staff within the department has grown exponentially over the past nine years. These strategic hires helped to expand the department’s scope of expertise in areas such as autonomous systems, guidance and navigation, plasma science, constellations of small satellites, hypersonics, aero/hydroacoustics, space science, rocket propulsion, cavitation and multiphase flow, and air/space/ocean vehicle design. 

During his tenure, alumnus Kevin T. Crofton gifted the department $14 million — establishing the first named aerospace and ocean department in the country.

“From the first day I met Eric, it was clear to me that he had a vision, the drive, and the passion for advancing the aerospace and ocean engineering department at Virginia Tech,” said Crofton, chief executive officer of the Comet Group. “He consistently engaged in strategic conversations, looking for the best steps and moves to support his faculty, staff, and students. Seeing Eric’s focus and his ability to help me understand the needs of the department facilitated my interest and desire to help make a difference for the department and for Virginia Tech.”

Eric Paterson and H. Pat Artis
A proponent for hands-on experiential learning, Paterson (and professor of practice H. Pat Artis) often spend weekends out at the launch pad at the Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems Laboratory alongside the aerospace engineering students. Faculty, rocket enthusiasts, and experts from the New River Valley Rocketry club provide mentoring and support to students gaining their L-1 certification, launching rockets and testing motors, and teaching courses on safely mixing and casting rocket propellant.

Support for students and experiential learning has been a key priority for Paterson during his time in the aerospace and ocean engineering department. A number of merit-based scholarships for under-represented undergraduates and graduates were launched under his tutelage, including scholarships and fellowships supported by the Crofton endowment. 

“I personally had the chance to observe the joy that Eric has in teaching - as well as his curiosity - when I saw him interacting with the students and faculty out on the rocket range,” said Crofton. “He was as excited as the rest of the folks out there that day.” 

In addition to his leadership role and running an active research program, Paterson takes pride in maintaining a close connection with the student population. As department head, he served as a faculty advisor to 15 graduate students and continued to teach both undergraduate and graduate level courses.

“The quality of the aerospace and ocean engineering graduates has never been better than under the leadership of Eric Paterson,” said Jeff Babione, alumnus and vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®. “His leadership and vision has allowed the department to not only grow, but strengthen the core curriculum while responding to the changing completion of engineering and the demands of the future workforce.”  

The department also made investments in student instructional spaces, such as the Studio for Design and Innovation, a space for seniors in the capstone design courses to collaborate; and the Advanced Engineering Design Laboratory, hands-on experiential learning facility in the Blacksburg Industrial Park to support a dozen design/competition teams within the College of Engineering. 

At a university level, Paterson’s impact has expanded Virginia Tech’s global footprint. In 2014, under his leadership, Virginia Tech joined the global Rolls-Royce University Technology Centers networks, consisting of research groups in world-class universities identified to develop long-term research and technology programs. Paterson also nurtured the growth of Virginia Tech’s space science and engineering research portfolio to include both basic science and engineering applications through the Center for Space Science and Engineering, otherwise known as Space@VT.

Eric Paterson often brought students, alumni and leaders in industry together to share their experiences.
As department head, Paterson maintained a close connection with both the student body and with alumni and leaders in industry. During aerospace and ocean engineering advisory board meetings, he often took the opportunity to bring student leaders and alumni together, to share their collective campus experiences and offer insight on what the future holds for a Virginia Tech graduate. Photo by Jama Green for Virginia Tech.

Paterson has over 30 years of combined industry and higher education experience that includes: Harris Corporation, the University of Iowa, Penn State University, and Virginia Tech, including many years as a research faculty member. 

While at Penn State he held a dual-title appointment as chief scientist of computational mechanics at the Applied Research Laboratory, a Navy university-affiliated research center, and professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering. 

Paterson's classified and restricted research portfolio spans the defense and intelligence communities and focuses on fluid dynamics, heat transfer, computational physics, and high-performance computing, with an emphasis on applied research where efforts have direct impact on the design, analysis, and operation of real-world systems.

Honored with awards and distinctions throughout his career, Paterson is a Fellow of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Dedicated to the profession through his service, Paterson was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ship Research, a Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers publication; the vice president of education for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics;  the chair, vice-chair and secretary of the Aerospace Department Chairs Association;  and is a member of the Environmental Advisory Board for Rolls-Royce PLC.

Paterson is a three-time mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Iowa, earning a bachelor's in 1987, a master's in 1990, and a doctorate in 1994.


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