As the new director of Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), Scott Shrake says that the program offers an incredibly unique opportunity for him—and the students, faculty and staff who are involved.
“When I went through my undergraduate engineering program, the outreach and entrepreneurship component was something that I missed,” he says. “I want to see my ideas to have an impact—that is why I am an engineer.”
ASU is one of more than 20 university partners in the national EPICS program founded at Purdue in 1995. In the award-winning service-learning program, teams of undergraduate students design, build and deploy systems to solve engineering-based problems for not-for-profit organizations such as charities and schools. Teams are finding solutions for critical needs both locally and globally—from access to clean drinking water to reducing food waste and feeding those in need. To fully implement these solutions, EPICS teams also must become entrepreneurial to obtain the necessary resources.
Shrake says that he has always felt a pull to entrepreneurship. While pursuing his doctoral degree in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Shrake tailored his research to the business aspects of engineering, developing methods for evaluating and improving the environmental performance of service industries, especially healthcare and consulting.
Prior to joining ASU, Shrake was a National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh where he pursued multiple research interests including sustainable business development, improving the sustainability of healthcare, and biofuel production and use. This work allowed him to collaborate with multiple corporate, governmental and nonprofit organizations including Alcoa, Bayer, Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc., University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Kingsley Association.
He sees EPICS as the perfect opportunity to put that expertise, along with his passion for community outreach and development, to work.
“EPICS at ASU has a great foundation. I am excited to have the chance to continue to build the program. The sky is the limit,” he says.
Shrake also brings a passion for teaching. He has mentored high school and undergraduate research groups in the U.S. and in Brazil, where he spent six months as a visiting scholar at the Federal University of Espirito Santo.
“If you had asked me 10-15 years ago what I wanted to be, my secondary answer to being the president of the U.S. was becoming a teacher,” he says. “The structure of EPICS enables me to take teaching a step further and be a mentor.”
Shrake says that one of the keys to success is faculty and staff, and he hopes to increase involvement. “This is a great opportunity for young faculty to increase their outreach efforts and get involved with students who are ready and willing to tackle some of todays biggest problems.”
For students, he sees EPICS as an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. “Employers love when students take on opportunities like this. It allows students to demonstrate their innovation and creativity, develop a well-rounded skillset, and gain practical hands-on business experience – all while working towards solving global problems. An interdisciplinary background is essential in creating sustainable solutions in todays business environment, and EPICS students will be able to actively develop and refine this background.”
“I would like this program to be the reason that students choose ASU—the pinnacle of what ASU has to offer,” Shrake says.