Nearly 30 years ago, Maryam Darbeheshti joined CU Denver as a graduate student, and her passion for the university, its students, and research has remained steadfast ever since. Darbeheshti, PhD, is now an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, the faculty advisor for our campus’ Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a fierce advocate for females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, and a researcher who has most recently studied retention among engineering students.
Darbeheshti and her husband, along with their eight-month-old daughter, immigrated to Colorado from Iran in 1992 to pursue their educations. Darbeheshti received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from CU Denver in 1999 before attending the University of Denver for her PhD in mechanical engineering (at the time, CU Denver didn’t offer a PhD in that field of study).
Darbeheshti stayed in touch with faculty members and returned to CU Denver in 2010 when she was offered a lecturer position in the Mechanical Engineering Department. “I’ve experienced CU Denver as a student, research assistant, teaching assistant, adjunct professor, and now—for the past 10 years—as a full-time IRC faculty member,” Darbeheshti said. “I have seen it grow, and I have grown with the university.”
As CU Denver celebrates its golden anniversary, faculty members like Darbeheshti are integral to the university’s past and future. To learn more about Darbeheshti and her various roles on campus, CU Denver News sat down with her for a Q&A.
What motivates you to go to work each day?
The highlight of my day is interacting with my students. I strive to know all my students by name and develop individual relationships with each of them. The beauty of CU Denver is that we have students from all walks of life, whether that be an 18-year-old who has just graduated from high school or a 35-year-old parent going back to school. Each day I come to work, I am motivated to accommodate my teaching style to meet the needs of all my students and ensure that they have the opportunity to be successful in my classes.
I have also had great mentors throughout my career. The current chair of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Ronald Rorrer, was on my thesis committee 23 years ago, and we have stayed in touch to this day. His support and mentorship throughout these years has been very crucial to advance my career at CU Denver.
*In 2020, Darbeheshti received the Excellence in Teaching award for both the College of Engineering, Design and Computing and CU Denver campus.
You received the CU Denver Faculty Feminist of the Year Award in 2016. What did that mean to you?
Receiving the CU Denver Faculty Feminist of the Year Award meant a great deal to me. Advocating for women in STEM, and especially in my area of expertise of engineering, has always been very important to me. Being recognized for my efforts to help create a level playing field for women in this industry has been very flattering, however nothing brings me more pride than being the faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers and seeing how our students are breaking glass ceilings on a daily basis. Being there to help guide and support these students has been one of the greatest achievements of my career.
*When Darbeheshti was named the faculty advisor of SWE in 2013, the society had less than 10 members. Today, CU Denver’s SWE chapter has more than 100 members. Each year, Darbeheshti takes several members to a national conference and many have landed careers from the networking opportunities.
What are some highlights of your research at CU Denver?
My research at CU Denver has primarily been in the areas of multi-phase viscous flow and fluid dynamics in mechanical engineering, as well as engineering education. In recent years, I have become more interested in research topics related to retention and success of our students. In 2016, I observed that one thing missing from the first-year engineering curriculum was the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences. To amend this, I, with the support of Dean Marc Ingber, created a new first-year course to bring the engineering experiences to classroom. This course was part of an innovative learning community program for first-year engineering students. The pilot program put first-year students in three courses together: a first-year engineering course, a calculus class focused on engineering applications, and a composition course centered on writing for engineers.
Our goal was to give first-year students hands-on experiences that encouraged them to stay in our program—to help them feel like they belong to the community of engineering. Our data showed that it worked. Consequently, with the support of Dean Martin Dunn, Professor Michael Jacobson, and Professor Tom Altman, I received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $1.6 million in 2018 to improve the retention and success rate of students in engineering. With this grant, we provide academic support and scholarships to eligible students. Furthermore, through our research, we have been able to develop a Layered Mentorship Program (LMP). The NSF grant has funded this program for the past four years and will for the next two years.
Read more: She built it—and they stayed: Engineering retention program nets NSF grant, $1 million for scholarships
You’ve served as the Grand Marshal for CU Denver’s New Student Convocation and Commencement ceremonies for the past six years. What stands out to you about this role?
Having the role of Grand Marshal is something I cherish deeply, especially as a woman in engineering, and a first-generation CU alum. I have always strived to show those who have looked or felt different, that they can do anything anyone else can do as long as they put their mind to it.
Furthermore, to achieve our university’s Strategic Plan Goal to become the first equity-serving institution in the nation, we need to showcase our commitment to representation and inclusion.
As we celebrate CU Denver’s 50th birthday, how do you think the university has changed?
I’ve been a part of CU Denver in one way or another for 27 of those 50 years. I believe the university has grown and changed for the better and I look forward to seeing it continue to flourish in the years to come.