Q&A with Dean Graham

I’m a first-generation college student who grew up in a military family. I was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and lived in Stuttgart for some of my childhood.

After moving back to the U.S., I grew up primarily in the Southeast—South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—and lived in Texas and California. I’ve called Atlanta home for the past 18 years. We’ve made a family enterprise out of engineering; my wife Shalonda and I have two children studying to be engineers (Camryn to be a biomedical engineer, and Sheldon an aerospace engineer).


Engineers bring to life technology’s impact on the world. It’s the bridge from the basic sciences to innovations that we rely on every day. Society wants and needs solutions to the world’s Grand Challenges; engineers will play a central role in every solution.

My curiosity never stopped growing up. As a military dependent, I wondered how equipment and machines worked, and if I could make them better. Working on model rockets and airplanes with a friend cemented for me that I wanted to be an engineer. This was back in the time of the space shuttle, so working on rockets and airplanes was exciting and seemed relevant.

That curiosity, and the desire to think of what could be and provide the tools to make it happen, still exists for me. I apply it in my research on wide bandgap semiconductors.

I originally chose mechanical engineering to work with physical objects I’d seen. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have previous lab experience, so my exposure to technology was through my environment: military hardware, the space shuttle, and rockets, for example. I wanted to understand how those machines worked, and mechanical engineering resonated with my curiosity.

Seeing mechanical engineering today, I made the right choice. I’ve had the opportunity to work in materials science, chemistry, physics, and public policy, all which play a role in my work. I’m also fortunate to have lifelong friends and colleagues I’ve met through these collaborations.

Four principal factors: high-caliber students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters; the school’s strong reputation; a track record of outstanding innovation and impact; and potential for the future. The more I learn about Maryland Engineering, the more excited I get.

I believe in capitalizing on competitive advantages, and Maryland has a unique one: Few other places have government agencies and private businesses so close by and interested in partnering, giving us the inside track to influence our nation’s technology.

I’m also attracted to the region’s diversity, and exploring and enjoying different cultures. Core to my tenure will be strengthening diversity and inclusion as a value of our school.

I love live music, jazz and R&B for example, and playing the drums is a passion of mine. I like traveling with my wife: places with water or mountains are favorites, but we’re happy just to get outdoors, or go hiking or fishing. I also enjoy photography and videography; I shot and edited footage The New York Times used during the pandemic. Most often, you’ll find me spending time with family and friends.

I’ll go with peach cobbler until I have the opportunity to try Smith Island Cake. But I reserve the right to change my mind.

About Samuel Graham, Jr.

On June 3, 2021, The University of Maryland named Samuel Graham, Jr. dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. Graham previously served as Eugene C. Gwaltney, Jr. Chair of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He holds a joint appointment with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Prior to Georgia Tech, Graham was a Senior Member of Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, California. He has served as a member of the Defense Science Study Group, a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and was the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Presently, he serves on the Advisory Board of the Engineering Science Research Foundation of Sandia National Laboratories and the Emerging Technologies Technical Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.