Jack Lesko is the Roux Institute’s Director of Engineering Research, joining Usama Fayyad, Gretchen Fougere, Melanie Tory, and Rai Winslow on the Research Leadership Team.
Lesko joins the institute from Virginia Tech, where he was the Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Lesko has 30+ years of design and analytical experience as an engineer, and his work spans both fundamental and applied research and engineering, including the development of in service advanced composite bridge structures, materials development in high voltage electrical insulation and desalination membranes, distributed energy storage for the smart grid, passive house high performance energy design for buildings, and durability-based design for composite ship structures.
With a joint appointment in the Departments of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, Lesko adds important connectivity to the College of Engineering. Senior Vice Provost for Portland and Academic Lead, Michael Pollastri says, “Jack brings a formidable and exciting background to Northeastern University, right at the interface of engineering research, learning, and entrepreneurship. This matches beautifully with the unique Roux Institute mission. We are also delighted to have such strong and enthusiastic collaboration from the College of Engineering as we launch the engineering research program in earnest.”
I am an entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary-minded engineer that is focused on making an impact for society. I believe that engineering is the application of science for society.”
Director of Engineering Research
The Roux Institute
Diversity of thought
Lesko is passionate about ways in which to build inclusive scientific communities. “Innovation is served by a diversity of thought, perspectives, and cultures,” he says.
In his previous role as associate dean, he cooperatively developed programs in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech to build community along with the sustained financial support structure to drive persistence to degree. Lesko has also been involved in the development and execution of white allyship leadership programs.
“One of the most compelling themes that came across during Jack’s interview process was his strong commitment to building an inclusive engineering research and learning environment; he demonstrated his ability to drive culture toward inclusion and to bring more voices to the table,” says Pollastri.
Lesko says that part of the reason he was drawn to the institute is because of his alignment with the Roux Institute’s interdisciplinary approach. “I’m a very interdisciplinary person, and the fact that you have so many great minds in these different spaces allows you to build innovative opportunities and at the interface of disciplines.”
Lesko looks forward to joint programs with other research areas, and utilizing, for instance, data visualization research in his work with advanced manufacturing and training.
Lesko co-founded a distributed battery storage company, PowerHub Systems, that was acquired by Fermata Energy in 2008, and continues its work in Vehicle to Grid technologies. The work led him to the NSF I-Corps entrepreneurial training program as an instructor, and to the University of Maryland and George Washington University assisting with the development and growth of the DC I-Corps Regional Node. Applying these experiences, Lesko has integrated problem-based learning programs through interdisciplinary engineering education and entrepreneurial training experiences for his students.
In addition, Lesko has much experience with helping companies spin out from a university, and of the Roux Institute’s entrepreneurship model, says, “From my perspective the entrepreneurship side is really motivating, and the idea that we’ll be doing research that is use-inspired to help companies while still being able to do fundamental work with Northeastern University is truly incredible.” He goes on to say, “It’s a big deal to me to deliberately impart an entrepreneurship mindset, and I think it influences one’s potential for impact.”
Partnerships as the lifeblood
Lesko says that the Roux Institute is the perfect fit for his skills and experience and is drawn to the “bold entrepreneurial vision to grow use-inspired research, on problems that matter to society and to Maine, with an incredibly engaged group of industry partners.”
He credits the institute’s structure, with partnerships at the center, as a deliberate effort to engage companies in a comprehensive way, that enables their work to grow Portland and the state.
Lesko has already been in talks with institute partners in the construction industry, focusing on their interest in technology to help their workforce implement safe and efficient practices.
He will also run a design-thinking custom discovery discussion with faculty from Northeastern’s Boston campus along with construction companies, to identify collective industry problems, that the Roux Institute team and Northeastern network can then work to solve.
The right place
Lesko believes Portland and Maine are ideal settings for the Roux Institute. “There’s a real enthusiasm from our partner companies – they care about the area, and they want to see it succeed. I see an incredible work ethic, exciting people, and really impressive companies that are committed to the state and the region.”
In addition to the construction industry, Lesko sees great potential from several other industries, including aerospace and medicine, that are interested in capitalizing on the opportunity to integrate technology into their business and serve this new high-tech economy.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like the Roux Institute,” Lesko says. “The people and the enthusiasm for this audacious experience, along with the strong connection to industry partners – it’s truly phenomenal.”