Associate Professor of Engineering
James Madison University
Rising Star Recipient
A founding faculty of the new Engineering Department, Olga Pierrakos has been at James Madison University (JMU) since January 2008. Dr. Pierrakos has taught 10 of the 17 required courses in the program and led the initial development of the six-course engineering design sequence, which is the spine of the curriculum and regarded as one of the most innovative undergraduate engineering design experiences nationwide. In the program, she has also led the assessment efforts, which have received exemplar remarks.
To support her efforts as innovative educator-scholar, she received several National Science Foundation (NSF) awards as principal investigator totaling over $1.5 million, one being the prestigious NSF CAREER Award focused on investigating complex problem-solving in engineering practice and translating real-world problem-solving into the classroom. The latter involves a novel pedagogical model to expose students to different types of problems leading to different modes of cognition. Given that women and minorities are underrepresented in engineering, Dr. Pierrakos also conducts research to understand students’ motivations to persist or to leave engineering. She believes that increasing the production of engineers and diversifying the engineering workforce will strengthen our nation’s global technological competitiveness.
Dr. Pierrakos also conducts research in biomedical engineering and sustainable energy systems. She works with students to characterize the flow past prosthetic heart valves and to design technologies for reducing drag on vehicles. With support from the NSF, she led an effort to establish a state-of-the-art experimental flow diagnostics facility to enable such research. This facility has already impacted hundreds of undergraduate and K-12 students.
Dr. Pierrakos has published over 85 peer-refereed publications and presented over 25 invited talks. All her projects involve students and nearly all her publications include students as co-authors. This is testament to empowering her students as the future scientists and engineers.
Dr. Pierrakos immigrated to Richmond from Sparta, Greece with her family in 1988. She holds a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, a M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Faith and family are her cornerstones. She is married to John Karabelas, who teaches in the JMU College of Business, and they have three beautiful sons – Thanasi, Vasili, and Leonidas.
"Who would know that the shyest little girl in class, who emigrated from Greece at the age of ten with her family, and who dreaded being in the spotlight would one day become an engineer, a professor, an educator, a scholar, and a mother? This was my calling. I cannot imagine my life being and doing anything else."