WCU professor’s dream of being named a ‘fellow’ is fulfilled

Martin Tanaka

Martin Tanaka

As a graduate student at Virginia Tech in the early 1990s, Martin Tanaka would often stare in amazement at the “fellow” award on the wall of his thesis adviser. He has wanted one of his own ever since.

Tanaka, who was recently promoted to associate professor in Western Carolina University’s Department of Engineering and Technology, now has a fellow award of his own to hang in his Belk Building office. Tanaka was awarded a fellow membership grade of distinction by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“It is a true honor,” Tanaka said. “It also provides external validation for the work that I have done, and that I do at the international level. “That makes me feel proud and honored. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for more than 20 years. I’ll have to find a good spot for it.”

ASME is an organization comprised of more than 130,000 members from 151 countries. But only about 3,500 have been named a fellow, said Tanaka, who has been a member since 1990.  For the last three years, Tanaka has chaired ASME’s design dynamics and rehabilitation committee. He was nominated by a colleague he befriended at the annual summer meetings, Ahmed Al Jumaily, a professor at Auckland University, of Technology in New Zealand.

Growing up in Fargo, North Dakota, Tanaka said he loved to take things apart and put them back together. He also was good at math. Putting to the two skills together took Tanaka down the path towards engineering. After serving a two-year stint in the Army at Fort Smith, Georgia, Tanaka enrolled at N. C. State University where he graduated summa cum laude in mechanical engineering.

After earning his master’s degree in engineering mechanics at Virginia Tech, Tanaka began his 11-year career in industry at Texas Instruments in Lexington, Kentucky. He also worked for VDO, a German-based automotive components supplier, where he designed automotive instrumentation for Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen product lines in Virginia and Detroit.

Tanaka also worked for ABB Group and Electro-Tec Corp. before returning to Virginia Tech, where he got a doctorate’s in biomedical engineering.

“It’s a very exciting field that requires both technical skills and creativity,” Tanaka said. “As a biomedical engineer, I apply mechanical engineering principles to biomedical problems. Developing innovative solution that can have a real impact is what drives me.”

Tanaka is in his sixth year at WCU after being an assistant professor and lab manager for two years at Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine.

“One of the exciting things about being here and working with students is that I get a chance to share my stories and help them really be prepared for when they get out there,” he said. “If I didn’t have my years of experience in industry, it would be very difficult for me to tell them what to prepare for.”