It seemed easy for the newest ISE faculty member, Ben Rachunok, to return to NC State. Not only did Rachunok receive his bachelor’s degree from the ISE Department, but he grew up here as well (Wilmington, NC). “The faculty at NC State sparked my passion for research and education, and it’s an honor to be able to join them,” he confided. “I also grew up in North Carolina so it’s wonderful to be a part of a university that plays such a key role in helping the place I call home.” I am so excited to welcome Dr. Rachunok back to NC State,” exclaimed ISE Department Head Julie Swann. “We love it when an ISE grad goes out, does great things, and returns to the Department.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2016, Rachunok went to Purdue, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2020. Before deciding to return to NC State, he built his sustainability skills as a postdoctoral researcher in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Stanford University and as an R&D intern at the Center for Computing Research at Sandia National Labs.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Adding Rachunok to the faculty is part of the bigger plan for ISE to grow and stay ahead of the sustainability curve. For the past decade, universities have supported sustainability at a much higher rate than the public sector. They continue to push the boundaries of sustainable practices inside the classroom and pioneered new technologies in the lab. At the same time, they have set new benchmarks in sustainable building design and performance. Fitts-Woolard Hall is a perfect example of sustainability engineering in action.
“Universities tend to be on the front lines of change because they have a culture that emphasizes the value and importance of intellectual exploration and progress,” explained Svetan Veliov, a project manager from the Centre for Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Toronto Mississauga. “Part of a university’s mandate is to prepare students for the future they will inherit.”
Rachunok’s skills featured on Tech Crunch, Gizmodo, Yahoo! Finance, The Huffington Post and the UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction will help expand the Department’s expertise in sustainability and the environment. Specifically in the area of climate change. “My background and experience are focused on how we use ISE and OR tools to create a sustainable world that is resilient to climate change,” he shared. “I’m excited to work with my colleagues at NC State to expand this research area.”
“Dr. Rachunok brings great experiences from Purdue University and Stanford University,” said Swann. “In addition to industrial and systems engineering expertise, he has connections with data science, civil engineering and environmental justice. His work at the intersection of engineering and sustainability is really an exciting area for ISE and our stakeholders.”
Rachunok wants to know how climate change and natural disasters impact communities and what we can do about it. “My work is in risk analysis and focuses on making decisions to become more sustainable and resilient to climate change and natural hazards,” he explained. These decisions can focus on whether or not to build or update infrastructure, how to respond to natural hazards or what policymaking and financial tools researchers will use to reduce future risk.
To aid in this decision-making often requires using data science to understand how climate change will impact communities. Other times this means simulating how these decisions affect communities to see who experiences their benefits. “I use many tools from industrial engineering, operations research and system analytics and optimization to solve these problems at every step of the way,” Rachunok said. Much of his recent work quantifies the disproportionate impact of climate change and extreme events on low-income or historically disadvantaged communities.
“As a profession, ISE can help design and improve systems in efficient, effective, and equitable ways,” shared Swann.
So now that Rachunok has bolstered the Department’s sustainability efforts, students who have a passion for improving the planet know they can come here and do that.