Philip Odonkor, Assistant Professor, School of Systems and Enterprises
What is your main academic and research focus?
My research is focused on leveraging the enormous amounts of data our smart devices generate daily — from our phones to our smart plugs — to understand the individual relationships people have with electricity. Specifically, my students and I are interested in uncovering the hidden trends, patterns and correlations that command our energy use and exploiting the learned insights to teach our homes how to control themselves. Beyond automating the mundane parts of our everyday lives, my fundamental research goal is to use these techniques and insights to inform decision-making within smart cities to improve energy use, mobility and health.
How has your work or your research focus changed in response to the pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, the overarching goal of my research was to maximize energy efficiency and minimize costs. The pandemic has completely changed this narrative. For example, rather than recycling warm indoor air, building managers nowadays prioritize using as much fresh air in buildings as possible. From a research perspective, this meant we were no longer interested in being efficient, or necessarily in saving money, but rather, we want to maximize human safety. I have had to pivot my research focus toward creating adaptable systems that can seamlessly switch between objectives while maintaining near-optimal behavior. This has always been the future; however, the pandemic has significantly accelerated my efforts toward this goal.
Why did you choose to come to Stevens?
A pivotal factor that attracted me to Stevens was the institution’s dedication to sustainability and energy efficiency. In an era where every institution claims to be environmentally conscious, Stevens differentiated itself by earning gold ratings from both STARS and AASHE, joining a prestigious group of institutions across the county. As someone whose research looks to push the boundaries of energy efficiency in smart cities, I saw this as a clear sign of the institution’s ambition and dedication toward an environmentally friendly future, making it the ideal home for me to build my research.
What was your background prior to joining Stevens?
I was born and raised in Ghana, but lived my teenage years in Lesotho, a landlocked country within South Africa. After high school, I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. My eyes lit up the moment I saw “New York.” I assumed I was heading to the Big Apple, but little did I know, Buffalo was six hours from New York City and insanely cold! Despite the initial shock, I enjoyed the next 10 years in Buffalo, during which I earned B.S. degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering. After my Ph.D. graduation, I fulfilled my teenage dream of moving to the real Big Apple (albeit a stone’s throw away) when I joined Stevens.
What do you like about working at Stevens?
I find the passion and energy of the Stevens community to be truly refreshing and a welcome surprise. From our students to our faculty and staff, everyone has so much enthusiasm and drive to make a difference. I enjoy working here because I find this positive culture to be inspiring — a trait that motivates my academic and research pursuits.