Littlejohn Dean's Faculty Fellowship
When Hiba Baroud’s teacher asked her to draw a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up, the then six-year-old did not hesitate. She drew herself as a professor.
|The Littlejohn Family|
That childhood goal has taken her from Lebanon to Canada to Norman, Oklahoma, to Nashville, where in 2015 she joined Vanderbilt’s engineering faculty. Though she ultimately lived up to that decades-old drawing, for a while it seemed she would take a different path.
As a teenage math whiz, Baroud decided she wanted to be an actuary. But when she went off for internships during her undergraduate studies, she found herself thinking about the academic life she left behind. By her fourth year at university, she began charting a path in academia, ultimately finding her way to engineering.
“I found out that I wanted to focus on the tools—going into actual statistic modeling research—but I also wanted to solve problems that had an impact on communities. Engineering allowed me to do both,” says Baroud.
Today, she develops statistical methodologies and tools to measure and analyze the risk, reliability and resilience in critical infrastructure systems.
“I’m particularly interested in evaluating the interdependency of infrastructure systems. For instance, Hurricane Katrina started by disrupting the levee system, which resulted in failures across the transportation system, eventually crippling the community. We are looking to predict the impact of these kinds of disruptive events and to model the recovery process, so we can have better emergency response plans in place.”
Baroud is currently focusing on disaster recovery of infrastructures here in the United States, especially how water and energy systems are connected. She is leading a National Science Foundation project focused on data-driven modeling of infrastructure and community resilience. She is also collaborating on a project in Bangladesh to investigate the effects of river closures on the economy, the transportation system and local communities.
The Littlejohn Dean’s Faculty Fellowship, which supports mid-career engineering faculty members, allows Baroud to push her research even further. “This award gives me the wiggle room to go after daring ideas that may not get funded right away, but once they become slightly more developed they would attract bigger research grants. This is such an important freedom to give younger faculty members,” says Baroud.
According to Baroud, the Littlejohn Fellowship is also indicative of her entire Vanderbilt experience. “The university is not only supporting me but providing me with whatever I need to be successful. It reminds me of a fellowship program I went to when I was a graduate student. I was asking a second-year fellow a lot of logistical questions, when she stopped me and said, ‘Don’t worry. They take care of everything. All you need to do is show up and do your job.’ That’s what Vanderbilt has been like for me as well,” says Baroud.
Ultimately, these opportunities are giving Baroud the chance to fulfill twin ambitions. “I want to do something that I’m passionate about, but at the same time I want to make sure I can be at the service of others. It’s like what the founder of the scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, said: ‘Leave this world a little better than you found it.’ Because of Vanderbilt and the Littlejohns, I’m in a position to live up to those words.”