Dr. Ignatius Fomunung, UC Foundation Professor,
Civil and Chemical Engineering
A Professor in CECS since Fall 2005, Dr. Fomunung’s first job was at age 12, at the campus of Cameroon Baptist Academy (a secondary school in Muyaka, Cameroon), as a Groundskeeper. He’s lived in several towns in Cameroon as well as other locations. He tells us “I am a police brat. As a member of the national police, my father served in several towns while I was growing up; Beijing and Nanjing, China; Paris, France; Atlanta, GA; and Chattanooga, TN.” He speaks Mandarin, French, English, Creole, and Mungaka. Let’s learn more…
How has knowing the Mandarin Chinese Language benefitted you in your career?
IF: I studied Civil Engineering in undergraduate in Mandarin; I had to take an intensive one-year course in Chinese before embarking on my studies, but it was continued learning throughout my five year stay in China. I have ongoing working relationships with faculty/researchers in many universities in China; being able to speak Chinese has also proven useful in our current joint educational program with Changsha University of Science and Technology (CSUST). Language is culture. In that sense, my ability to speak Chinese is a barrier breaker.
What was one of your favorite jobs before becoming a faculty member?
IF: Civil and Hydraulic Engineer with the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) and Del Monte Fresh Fruit, Cameroon
How did you know that it was Civil Engineering that excited you?
IF: Given my background, coming from a developing country, the need for infrastructure in roads, bridges, airports, buildings, etc was and remains acute, so it was easy choice for me to gravitate towards civil engineering.
What would you like us to know about Civil Engineering that we may not know or think of?
IF: When folks hear civil engineering, they think “old” and “static”. While it is the oldest engineering discipline, civil engineering is far from static; it is dynamic. Exciting opportunities abound. With the rapid technological development new tools can be creatively adapted and deployed to solve outstanding civil engineering problems.
The recent collapse of the residential tower in Surfside Florida, is a case in point. Civil engineers, using forensic analysis and employing such tools as signal and image processing are able to predict the health of structures and intervene before catastrophic failure ensues. In transportation engineering, which is my area of focus, the ability to handle large amounts of data has resulted in improved models of traffic flow, which are helping ease traffic congestion and improving air quality.
What has been your favorite thing about your career so far?
IF: Being able to train the next generation of civil engineers
How have you seen CECS change over the years since you’ve been here?
IF: I got here right about the beginning of a change in emphasis form a teaching centered program to a more balanced emphasis on teaching and research. I have seen that change accelerate over my time here.
Tell us about your family.
IF: I have been married to my wife and best friend Lilian for 31 years; we have three beautiful daughters: Jennifer, an attorney in Houston; Kena, who is transferring into UTC’s Computer Science program from Chatt State in the Fall 2021; and Jalla, a rising senior at East Hamilton High School.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
IF: Reading, mostly fiction; gardening; building stuff in my workshop in my basement.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
IF: I present as laid back and introverted, which are true, but my wife says I have a sly sense of humor if you get to know me.
Are you a sports fan and if so, which sports/teams? What do you like to play?
IF: Soccer. I follow the English Premier League closely. I am also a golf fan, even though I don’t get to play much.
What’s the coolest or most interesting thing you’ve either worked on in the past or are working on right now?
IF: Last year, due to the pandemic, I suddenly had a lot of stay at home time and I finally got around to building a vegetable garden in the backyard for my wife, which I continue to make improvements on. Who says the covid pandemic doesn’t have its benefits?
What is your proudest accomplishment?
IF: Being a father. The sweetest word to my ears is “Daddy”.
For what are you most grateful today?
IF: Good health.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
IF: Walking across the glass bottom bridge in Zhangjiajie, China in 2016.
One of your favorite restaurants in the Chattanooga area?
IF: The Acropolis; First Watch.
What are some of the apps you use most often on your phone or apps that you’ve discovered are pretty neat?
Tells us about the foundation you and your family have established and support.
IF: KayebaNingmuaFomunung Foundation, which my siblings and I established in honor and memory of our late parents. The foundation offers scholarships to needy students in Cameroon, and promotes education and healthcare generally.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone in their 20s?
IF: Be measured in your activities and decisions. Set realistic goals and be persistent
Thank you, Dr. Fomunung, for your continued commitment to CECS and our students! Keep working on that vegetable garden and building stuff in your basement workshop too. We’ll all keep an eye out for Kena in her Mocs attire this Fall!