Mishac Yegian Retires After 47 Years of Meritorious Service and Leadership

After nearly five decades of service as a professor and researcher at Northeastern University, College of Engineering Distinguished Professor Mishac Yegian will be retiring in the summer of 2023. His tenure at Northeastern covered 47 years in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which he also led as Department Chair for a seventeen-year period from the mid-80s till 2001.

Yegian earned his bachelor’s in 1971 from American University of Beirut, followed shortly by an MS from UT Austin and a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. He promptly joined Northeastern in what was then the Department of Civil Engineering as an assistant professor and received tenure in 1980. He became Department Chair in 1984, overseeing the department as it added “Environmental Engineering” to its title, signaling the growing significance of that field within the wider world of engineering of the built and natural environments.

As chair, he joined when the department existed as a largely teaching focused effort and helped it grow into one increasingly involved in research, a continued trend fully realized today. Professor Tom Sheahan, now Executive Vice Provost and a fellow geotechnical engineer who was hired by Yegian, said “He was really the one who initiated the department as a place where more and more research would be done by the faculty, and maintain a balance between research and teaching. He was the bridge between what was predominantly a teaching department to where we are now. That really began with Mishac as chair.”

“He held up very high standards for the faculty,” Sheahan recalled. “He really encouraged us, usually with humor, but would also light a fire under us, to make sure we were meeting the expectations that he had for the department.”

Yegian’s impact as a researcher and education were clear. “Mishac’s research area – that’s a whole subfield of geotechnical earthquake engineering. That’s been his specialty. He’s a very multidisciplinary engineer with a holistic understanding of the entire process. He’s extremely well known in the profession, around the world, and has played key roles post-earthquakes in various locations,” Sheahan explained, adding that Yegian’s unique teaching style and reputation helped draw students to the department. “He brings his full energy and passion for engineering to the classroom and research. He cares about his students, many of whom are living his story- having come from different countries to study here, just as he did. His students are really an important part of his family.”

His commitment to the students and community was perfectly encapsulated in a department tradition, the Gingerbread Shake Table Competition, where ASCE students would build gingerbread houses to later watch them put to the structural test on Dr. Yegian’s earthquake simulation shake table. “The competition was such a fun way to blow off some steam with friends while the semester was at its toughest, while also incorporating some lessons we learned from the classroom,” said Jack Keras, a BS alumnus of the department. “I have fond memories of sitting in front of the shake table and listen to him cracking jokes about the way the gingerbread houses looked and were designed and of him wearing a Santa hat with “Nice” written on the front, and him switching it around to the “Naughty” side when raising the magnitude of the shake table. I think my favorite memories of the competition weren’t of when my friends and I participated, but were of when we brought in local middle schoolers to participate in the event. Prof. Yegian’s enthusiasm was infectious towards the kids, and seeing their investment and excitement in whose house would be the last one standing was a rewarding thing to experience, all of which is a testament to how well Prof. Yegian was able to connect with them.”

Lauren Howe, another alumna of the department, agreed. “It was always a blast. I loved it every time he waved the dowel rod around with the apple on the end to explain acceleration and Newton’s laws. I know that many of [the visiting middle schoolers] likely walked away thinking that civil engineering could be cool, which was so inspiring. And that is truly thanks to Dr. Yegian’s fun nature. Dr. Yegian is the definition of joyful and energetic; he brings so much excitement to the civil engineering department.”

Jerry Hajjar, CDM Smith Professor and Department Chair, noted Yegian’s exceptional contributions to the profession, not only through his teaching and research, but also through his consulting.  He has consulted on numerous complex projects, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the La Honda Dam in Venezuela, and the locks of the Panama Canal.

Mishac Yegian is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the ASCE Geo-Institute, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Seismological Society of America, the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, the American Society for Engineering Education, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section, and Chi Epsilon.  He has won numerous awards, including the 2014 ASCE Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award for his groundbreaking research in mitigation of soil liquefaction during earthquakes.

Hajjar indicated that “Mishac Yegian has left an indelible mark on the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, educating generations of students, conducting groundbreaking research, bringing research to practice through his extensive consulting, and dedicating his career to strengthening the department through his commitment to excellence. On behalf of the students, staff, faculty, and alumni in the department and at the university over the last five decades, we congratulate and thank Mishac for his many contributions to the department, the university, and the profession.”

Related Faculty: Mishac K. Yegian, Thomas C. Sheahan, Jerome F. Hajjar

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering