Polymer Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ruel McKenzie


Dr. Ruel McKenzie is an Assistant Professor of Polymer Engineering. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. McKenzie about his career at The University of Akron’s School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering (SPSPE). Read more about his life and career below.

Tell us something about yourself:

I am a meteorology nut!! I really enjoy weather patterns, meteorological profiles, pressure maps and any climatic activity: be it terrestrial, atmospheric or even aquatic. My strong research interest in nonequilibrium states actually stems from this avid interest and my work on microclimates demonstrated that my interest in non-steady state profiles could be applied to the realm of polymeric materials.

What were the driving factors in your decision to join the SPSPE faculty?

I have always been interested in the soft and squishy to the point where I deliberately exposed myself to a diverse range of polymeric materials from biological to organic-inorganic hybrids. There are only a few places in the world that allow you to focus primarily on polymers and when a colleague convinced me that the city of Akron would suit my persona and desire to connect my work with community, I could have only hoped that the famed and well-recognized SPSPE found me worthy of helping to lead the next generation of polymer enthusiasts and practitioners. My decision to join was a no-brainer once I saw the wealth of capabilities (or as I say, toys) that this school had to offer.

What’s your teaching philosophy or your outlook on higher education?

Neurodiversity is something that is very important to me. I appreciate that some of the most famed thinkers were not neurotypical and I try to be, as best as I can, an advocate for neurodiversity. My outlook on higher education is that we continue to evolve our pedagogical practice to include neurodiversity. We all have different ways of thinking and approaching problems and we all should have an equitable opportunity to participate in a welcoming environment that allows us to freely express our thoughts without reservation or fear of being mislabeled or mistreated.

My teaching philosophy is somewhat basic and is something I learned from a fellow colleague: "teach the students you have, not the students you want". 

What are some of your favorite things to do when you’re not teaching?

Besides absorbing my family and spending as much quality time with them as possible: I really enjoy doing puzzles. Tangrams, sudoku, crosswords, search-and-finds, jigsaws, word-searches, mazes, text-twists, hang-man, structural (3D) puzzles, riddles, scavenger hunts...I hope you get the point. I love puzzles. It does not matter the type of puzzle.

What do you love most about your job at The University of Akron, and your work through your particular program?

Witnessing and being a part of the maturation process of a student, connecting with community and industry, and being on the leading edge of polymers research. Through my particular program, it has been rewarding to see ideas come to fruition which generates communal interest around our results, inevitably enabling me to expand my research network to regions I could only dream.

What are your goals for SPSPE? How do you plan to achieve those goals?

To help usher the next-generation of soft materials technology, especially those that help to mitigate some of the grand challenges we face as a world-body. Some things we are working on are water harvesting materials to help with challenges we face in the water-energy nexus, inherently piezoelectric soft materials to vastly expand our energy capabilities and fundamentally understanding the molecular effects of heat flow towards designing materials that can better utilize waste heat.

What is one thing that you hope each of your students learns from you?

Research is about passion. To be successful in research there needs to be a high-level of passion and dedication. It is okay to be ambitious as long as you fill your ambition with substance and hard-work. Strive to be innovative and the rest will follow.