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Thorsten Wuest Ph.D.
During a two-year term as an officer in the German military, Thorsten Wuest found himself assigned leading a logistics platoon focused on the supply and maintenance of military operations.
These experiences would later prompt him to study industrial engineering in northern Germany, and eventually lead him to become a J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering at West Virginia University.
“I decided to explore research in more depth, and felt the best way to do that is to pursue a Ph.D. in production engineering,” Wuest said. “That’s where I got more into the technical data side of things that I’m doing right now, and I was introduced to machine learning, [artificial intelligence] and smart manufacturing systems in more detail.”
Wuest, a WVU assistant professor of industrial and management systems engineering, joined the University in 2015 for smart and advanced manufacturing. Before moving to West Virginia, he worked as a research scientist in Germany including a 10-month research project at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering. He said that the seemingly endless opportunities for industrial engineering and manufacturing are what drew him to this profession.
“In my mind, it’s all connected. We have that data stream from design all the way to when a product reaches its end of life, including the usage phase where we see how people really interact with a product or service,” he said. “That can influence how we design it better, or how we improve or manufacture it.”
Wuest was one of two assistant professors to be awarded the inaugural engineering fellowship in 2017. Since then, the fellowship has allowed Wuest to fund research, attend conferences and collaborate with colleagues across the world.
“I think the fellowship had a significant impact on my career, allowing me to work with our colleagues in Finland, Italy, Germany, France and Australia just to name a few, to engage in exciting new research areas and not be limited by minor obstacles.”
The fellowship often serves as a kick-start for burgeoning undergraduate researchers thanks to its ability to fund research equipment and other necessities for students to gain skills and experience. Wuest was paired with a mechanical engineering student, Joshua Gross, from a technical high school, and this fellowship has allowed him to build the student’s portfolio in time for his graduation in May 2021.
“The fellowship allowed us to purchase [augmented reality] equipment that enabled him to really engage in research, and he recently published his first peer-reviewed paper, which I just think is really great for an undergraduate researcher,” he said. “He will graduate in May and already has a job lined up.”
Not only has the fellowship aided in research and collaboration with WVU students, but it also assisted in the writing and publication of two of Wuest’s three books, Digital Supply Networks and Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing.
“I was able to really engage in writing two books that came out in 2019-2020, and spending that time traveling to my co-author in South Carolina was one of the real benefits of the fellowship outside of engaging with our students.”
He teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in the Statler College of Engineering. Wuest said that he really enjoys working with graduate students on research because of the flexibility and independence.
“I really enjoy selecting my own collaborators and working with people I like to work with,” he said. “I feel like, in the industry, you are a bit more limited in making those decisions. In academia, it’s up to you, and I really enjoy that.”
Wuest graduated with his master’s degree in industrial engineering and management in 2009 and his doctoral degree in production engineering in 2014 – both from the University of Bremen in Germany. In 2008, he also received his master’s in international business from AUT University in New Zealand.
His work has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, magazines and conference papers. He’s also spoken at universities across the world, including seminars in Japan, Germany and Switzerland, among others. In 2020, he was recognized as a smart manufacturing thought leader and listed among the 20 most influential professors in smart manufacturing by SME, a nonprofit association for manufacturing professionals.
Wuest is constantly encouraging his students to consider publishing their own work in peer-reviewed journals and professional publications, as this helps develop independent thinking skills and gives them a chance to share their ideas with potential collaborators and colleagues.
“From day one, I work with my graduate students towards putting their ideas on paper,” he said. “Publishing is a way to communicate what we’re doing with the scientific community and the public. We want to help and solve problems, and others should profit from that.”
Wuest has served as a member of the Statler Research Council and WVU’s Strategic Transformation Core Team. In 2019, he was awarded Statler’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year. He has also been granted the IDEA Founding Teacher Fellowship and Big XII Faculty Fellowship, among several other grants and scholarships.
The donations that go into faculty fellowships can be the difference in the quality of education for students, and Wuest said that while the funding enables many opportunities, the sheer motivation in being acknowledged as a faculty fellow helps put purpose into his work.
“I write emails and send updates on what the fellowship is allowing us to do to Wayne and Kathy, and I would imagine that this is also satisfying for the donor to see,” Wuest said. “It has an impact, and it changes life for some of the students and people working here.”
Funding for the J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow program is provided through a gift from the Richards.