Faculty Spotlight: Mohamed Hafez

Mohamed Hafez
Hafez runs an experiment with Associate Professor Barbara Linke for a new undergraduate course they introduced and taught together as part of their NSF grant on STEM Education in Aerospace Engineering.

As he approaches his 35th year on campus, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Mohamed Hafez continues to leave an indelible mark on the department and his students. He has taught and mentored undergraduate, graduate and high school students and postdoctoral scholars alike while introducing several courses and being a driving force behind aerospace engineering at UC Davis.

Hafez is a firm believer that you get out what you put in. He meticulously plans lessons for his classes and expects a high level of commitment from his students in return. Though his classes are difficult, he regularly receives emails from former students thanking him for the impact he had on their careers.

“Teaching is a responsibility and as the instructor, you are in charge,” he said, “But the success depends on both the instructor and the students. Both must be genuinely interested in education and you must devote time and put in sincere effort to get good results. It’s a good job, but very demanding if you want to do it right.”

He has the same philosophy with research. Though he maintains a small research group, he dedicates himself to the students he does have. He spends hours with each student every week, working in-depth both on his own and with them on the problem they’re trying to solve to give them the best guidance possible.

“Teaching enthusiastic students is a renewal for me,” he said. “I meet these new students and I get excited and they give me hope. They remind me of my youth and when I started my education.”

A Career in Aerodynamics

Hafez was inspired by the space race in the late ‘50s and became curious about how and why airplanes fly. This led him to aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Cairo, Egypt, where he was introduced to fluid dynamics and aerodynamics.

He has worked in this area since and his research has focused on high-speed aircraft. He has co-authored 200 publications and two books, co-edited 11 more books and has had work funded by both NASA and Boeing. He has been an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) fellow since 1994 and received the Computational Fluid Dynamics Award from the U.S. Association of Computational Mechanics in 1999.

He has also seen the aerospace engineering program at UC Davis grow from a small group to fully-fledged program while he graduated 18 Ph.D. and 18 M.S. students.

“They [Hafez and professor emeritus Jean-Jacques Chattot] are internationally well known, computational fluid dynamists who’ve seen [the field] from its beginnings to the revolution and transition from analytical solutions to computing,” said French Academy of Sciences member Olivier Pironneau in a review of their book, Theoretical and Applied Aerodynamics. “Their contribution has been essential to aerodynamics for airplanes, and more recently, turbines and windmills. Consequently, the book is a masterpiece for aerodynamics of analytical and numerical techniques.”

Paying It Forward

Hafez earned a M.S. and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and a M.S. in mathematics at the University of Southern California. He was fortunate enough to be able to learn from international experts of the time in hypersonic and transonic flows, such as his advisor, H.K. Chang. He also feels incredibly grateful for the mentorship he received at USC from Professors Laufer, Antosiewicz and Bellman and tries to pay that forward at UC Davis.

“I was really lucky to have these teachers and feel I owe it to them to pay it back somehow,” he said.

His signature course is “Engineering Analysis,” which covers numerical methods for undergraduate students. He introduced it in when he joined UC Davis in 1985 and has taught it every year since. He has also taught “Theoretical and Computational Aerodynamics” and “Rocket Propulsion” to several generations of undergraduates, along with “Advanced Aerodynamics,” “Computational Fluid Dynamics” and “Linear and Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations in Engineering” for graduate students.

He has also taught First-Year Seminars and California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) for the past 20 years. He used his experiences to write his most recent bookIntroduction to Computer Simulations for Integrated STEM College Education, with his former graduate student, William Tavernetti, now a lecturer in the UC Davis Department of Mathematics. The book was recently named one of the 10 best ebooks on STEM Education in 2020 by BookAuthority.

His approach has clearly paid off, as he has received four teaching awards at UC Davis. He received the UC Davis Prize for scholarly achievements and undergraduate teaching in 1998, campus’ highest honor for undergraduate instructors, along with the distinguished teaching award from the campus Academic Senate, an award from engineering students and another from engineering alumni—the one he is most proud of.

This is because it’s clear that his students are his pride and joy. When asked, he quickly recalls his students who have gone on to successful careers as professors and NASA scientists.

“My students are my contribution,” he said. “The most important thing to me is when I get an email from a student saying, ‘you changed my life.’ That is enough for me.”