March 03, 2022
Premature babies have to have just the right amount of oxygen to develop appropriately. Too much oxygen and they could go blind, and too little can cause brain damage. Right now, nurses and respiratory therapists have to manually adjust those levels, but a Mizzou Engineer is helping to devise a way to automate that system and reduce the risk of human error. Meet Roger Fales.
Fales is an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. He specializes in automatic control and fluid power systems, especially as they apply to medical devices.
When he and collaborators aren’t saving babies, Fales is helping to prepare the next generation of engineering leaders as associate dean of student services and academic programs, a role he assumed in 2021. In that position, he works with College leadership, faculty and staff to ensure students receive a top-notch educational experience that includes relevant coursework, innovative services and opportunities to conduct research.
After earning a bachelor’s and master’s from Kansas State University, Fales went to work for Caterpillar. There, he led project teams, conducted research and also got the opportunity to work alongside academic collaborators.
“Caterpillar was a wonderful experience and working with academic partners got me interested in going into academia,” he said. “I wanted a little more freedom in terms of research and my career path. I’d also gotten a taste of teaching during my master’s program, so I had an interest in that side of academia, as well.”
Fales went on to earn his PhD at Iowa State University, where he continued to develop his research and teaching skills.
In 2004, he came to Mizzou Engineering, where he’s been able to take advantage of interdisciplinary research opportunities, namely lending his engineering expertise to medical applications.
Several years ago, Dr. Ramak Amjad, then a neonatologist at MU’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, recruited Fales to help develop a device that would automatically adjust oxygen levels for premature babies. Amjad is now a neonatologist and director of the NICU at Studer Family Children’s Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. The team is also collaborating with Dr. John Pardalos, the Director of the NICU at MU’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“In a general sense, the device is an automatic control system, which is an area I’ve taught and conducted other research around,” Fales said.
In 2017, the research team received seed funding from the University of Missouri’s Coulter Biomedical Accelerator Program for the project. They’ve since been awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health for the work and are currently in the implementation stage. Fales is also part of a company that has optioned to license the technology.
Fales uses his industry and research experience to demonstrate to students how mechanical engineering translates to everyday applications. He’s also careful to stress that theories around automatic controls can apply to a variety of innovations in health care, aircraft, machinery and other systems.
Fales describes his teaching style as interactive.
“I think it’s fun when you can teach students something they can potentially apply in other ways,” he said. “I like interacting with students, having them engaged in class so we can figure out things together.”
Fales also emphasizes collaboration in his role as associate dean. Over the past year, he has worked with administrators, faculty, students and staff to pinpoint ways to improve on student services.
Currently, his team is focused on enhancing tutoring. Rather than being seen as a “last resort” for struggling students, Fales would like to see tutoring be considered part of a classroom experience.
“We’re trying to integrate tutors more with faculty and the classes they’re tutoring for,” Fales said. “We want to make tutoring what it should be, and that’s part of a course. That’s an important development we’ve been working on over the past semester or two.”
Another area of focus is around inclusivity, diversity and equity, collectively referred to as IDE. On Fales’ watch, the College appointed four professors to serve as IDE Faculty Fellows charged with providing guidance and mentorship to students from traditionally underrepresented populations. The IDE Faculty Fellows meet with Fales weekly to discuss student needs, concerns and ideas.
The College also recently formed an IDE Alumni Advisory Council to provide direction from an industry and professional standpoint. The council will meet regularly to advise faculty and staff on programming and curriculum.
And this past semester, Fales worked with the Dean’s Council on Teaching Excellence to highlight inclusivity principles at the annual Symposium on Engineering Teaching Excellence.
“We are attempting to make the College even more welcoming to all people from a range of backgrounds,” Fales said. “We’ve kept that on the front burner the entire year, and now we’re looking forward to involving the new alumni advisory council.”
Recent efforts have involved students, faculty and staff early in the decision-making process, encouraging the entire engineering community to get involved in programs around inclusion.
“I think this new approach to inclusivity is a good one,” Fales said. “It’s designed to be more ground up, as opposed to someone like me or the dean telling people what to do. We want ideas to grow up from students, faculty and staff. That’s something in general I try to do—involve people early on in decisions. We want to promote an atmosphere where anyone can come up with good ideas that we help implement.”
One idea has been to better showcase the benefits of graduate school to current students, as earning a master’s degree significantly increases earning potential and a PhD opens doors to careers in academia and at national labs.
Last year, Fales worked with the College to host a graduate open house to give undergraduate students the opportunity to explore programs and potential outcomes.
Fales has also worked with Dean Noah Manring to increase levels of funding to support graduate students. A new Doctoral Fellowship, for instance, covers the cost of a PhD for qualifying students.
“We have a long history of providing scholarships for undergraduates and currently award $1.7 million a year,” Fales said. “Now, we want to focus on the graduate level in order to attract high-performing students who can help with research and teaching. The Doctoral Fellowship will allow us to attract a new crop of PhD students into the College.”
Fales is hopeful that Mizzou Engineering will be able to host additional events and activities for students as COVID protocols begin to ease.
Interacting academically and socially on campus is a critical part of a comprehensive education, he said.
“Those are things that make a university a university,” Fales said. “You don’t just buy a course, you participate in a course supported by academic advising, tutoring, career assistance and other student services.”
Fales says having the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and students is what keeps him motivated
“I like interacting with students, faculty and staff,” he said. “There is always something new. It’s fun for me to be able to socialize with them and to see people grow academically and in their positions.”
Join an engineering community that supports you all the way. Become a Mizzou Engineer!