The Gatepost Interview: Douglas Leaffer, Professor of Physics and Earth Science

[Erin Fitzmaurice]

By William Mills-Curran

Staff Writer

What is your academic background?

I earned a B.S. in geological sciences from the University of Miami with a minor in math. I earned a master’s of science in civil engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering at Tufts University in Boston, and I am working on my doctorate in civil and environmental engineering – currently about halfway done with the program.

What is your professional background?

I worked for about a dozen years as an environmental engineering consultant for a number of firms in the water, wastewater and air pollution disciplines. Then I worked for about another dozen years for life science companies, including biotech and pharmaceutical on the supply chain manufacturing-engineering side.

How do you feel your professional background contributes to your classes?

I bring in experience from consulting as well as manufacturing. And engineering reaches across both those disciplines into my classrooms, lectures and presentations.

What was your favorite undergraduate experience?

Probably field trips to the Florida Keys in the late 1980s. … Snorkeling, sightseeing, the Everglades, coral reefs, diving.

Do you have any advice for Framingham State students?

I’d say these days it’s very important to consider graduate studies. Mainly because the bachelor’s degree may not be exactly enough for job security reasons, or for advancement in careers.

What’s one class you’d recommend all Framingham State students take?

Other than mine? I think they should take Statistics … because it helps [students] to understand how data is presented and analyzed and we’re living in a world of “Big Data” these days, whereby many decisions relating to marketing of products, sales, records – for example, medical records, financial systems – they all tie back to statistics. It’s a very useful course.

What is one thing students would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a professional musician – saxophone player since 1981. … I freelance with a number of bands, I have recorded several CDs, and I continue to play with mostly jazz and rock bands today.

You’re in charge of Framingham State’s budding Pre-Engineering Program. Where do you see that going in the future?

The program needs to grow to the point where we can close the gap such that transferring becomes a 2 + 2 articulation program, meaning that students would spend two years at Framingham State. … And then two more years in an engineering degree-granting B.S. program. Currently it’s, 2 + 3. So that’s where I believe the program needs to grow. And we would need to add additional engineering courses in order to do that. … We are excited that the program has added its second engineering course in mechanics, which moves FSU closer toward the 2+2 articulation with partner universities granting the B.S. engineering degree.

Comparing it with your own experience, do you believe the Pre-Engineering Program sets students up for success?

It does, because the students who are very motivated and dedicated and have the right attitude and aptitude will succeed going forward when they transfer to engineering degree-granting programs, and at that point, they’ll have many options amongst ten majors – for example, chemical engineering, biological engineering, biomedical, civil, mechanical, electrical. So students who are highly motivated to get through the fundamentals here at FSU – calculus, physics and the first-level Intro to Engineering course – will succeed as they transfer.

Have you taught at other colleges or universities before?

I’ve taught at Merrimack College in North Andover in the civil engineering department. I’ve taught geotechnical engineering and environmental design.

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