David Rosowsky said jokingly that he had to “lose a couple of ties” with color schemes that did not match his new environment when he moved to Manhattan.
“Fortunately, I think purple is a gorgeous color,” Rosowsky said. “It’s a regal color, a royal color. … I think it looks good on everybody.”
Rosowsky, the vice president for research at Kansas State University, moved to the Little Apple last month but began working for K-State remotely in July. He has lived all over the country — Oregon, Texas, upstate New York, South Carolina and Vermont — but he said he and his family love Manhattan.
“I guess we traded the Green Mountains for the Flint Hills,” Rosowsky said. “We love becoming part of the community.”
A native of Boston, Rosowsky (pronounced rose-ov-skee) said he prefers working for land-grant universities — institutions with the primary mission of teaching practical agriculture, science, military science and engineering.
Rosowsky said K-State is in “the very top tier.”
“I think 28 of my 32 years (in higher education) have been at land-grant universities,” Rosowsky said. “K-State is deeply committed to the land-grant mission, and that’s important to me.”
Prior to his role at K-State, Rosowsky was a professor of civil engineering at the University of Vermont. He was also provost and senior vice president at that institution. Before that, he served in leadership roles at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Texas A&M, Oregon State and Clemson. He said the way a land-grant university’s research efforts support its teaching mission and extension efforts “is really attractive” to him.
“The opportunity to provide some leadership in that domain to one of the nation’s top land-grant universities was a singular opportunity,” Rosowsky said. “I was immediately compelled by it.”
Rosowsky, 58, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Tufts in Massachusetts and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins. In the university’s announcement of Rosowsky’s hiring, K-State President Richard Myers said his experience in higher education “aligns well with our strategic direction as we continue to raise our national and international profile as a major research institution.”
“He is an innovator and accomplished communicator who can help drive focus and visibility for our research and economic development efforts,” Myers said.
Rosowsky’s background in civil engineering focuses on natural hazards, particularly hurricanes and earthquakes, and how those impact civil systems. He said he became involved in hurricane research at Clemson, which involves everything from risk analysis and wind modeling to using predictive tools to determine where a hurricane might make landfall. He said he’s also done studies for the construction and building industry to determine how stronger storms might affect an aging inventory of building supplies, and the amount of losses insurance companies could expect from such storms.
“We’ve even superimposed changes in climate that are impacting the warming of the ocean,” Rosowsky said. “When you have the warming of the ocean, you have the potential for more energy to be sucked into these storms, which makes them stronger and bigger and more devastating.”
He said his natural hazards studies led him to collaborate with meteorologists and climate scientists, as well as computer scientists, builders, building code enforcers and the insurance industry, among others.
“It turns out, the cost of making a typical wood-frame residential structure hurricane resistant — it’s not prohibitive, it’s not high,” Rosowsky said.
Rosowsky said his work with Oregon State University led him to conduct similar research into how earthquakes affect civil infrastructure and how engineers can make buildings more “earthquake proof.” He said there are ongoing efforts to “hurricane proof” more structures along the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico, but no structure is “tornado proof” because of the faster localized winds involved with a tornado versus a hurricane. Regardless of the disaster, Rosowsky said climate change is leading to more specialized engineering tactics.
“Unfortunately, it does seem likely that we’re going to see more and larger storms,” Rosowsky said. “So, we’re just going to have to get ready for that.”
Rosowsky said in many instances, modern buildings are designed to withstand one or more natural hazards, but structures designed 30 years ago to sustain hurricane-force winds are now “under-designed.”
“They were designed for a storm that we wouldn’t expect to see more than once in 100 years, but maybe now it’s once in 70 years, or once in 50 years,” Rosowsky said. “It’s not that the building is out of date, but it no longer has the implied safety that it was designed to have. The question then becomes, ‘Do you live with that reduced level of safety, or do you retrofit the structure?’”
Rosowsky said he also understands damage patterns, or “how buildings blow apart.”
“I know the sequence of failure, I know where the weak points are,” Rosowsky said. “I know how to make weak points not weak points.”
He said he’s also “been thinking a lot” about wildfires lately, and how large blazes are becoming more commonplace. He said living in Oregon made him acutely aware of wildfire seasons.
“One thing we’ve noticed is the number of fires is much larger now, and fires themselves are much larger,” Rosowsky said. “We don’t really design civil infrastructure systems for wildfires, because most of the time a wildfire is not near your urban core.”
Rosowsky said he is also worried about drought, and how that affects urban areas and agricultural operations.
“I think that natural hazards for our built infrastructure, and the communities in which we live. … I think there’s parts of the country that are going to face a tough future,” Rosowsky said. “I don’t think Kansas is one of them.”
Rosowsky said challenges impact the central Plains and the Midwest, but Kansas — and K-State — is well positioned to handle those challenges.
“That’s what being part of a community, and part of a great nation, is about,” Rosowsky said. “We should be responsible, we should be responsive, and I think universities play a huge role in that. I’d like to believe that K-State can be a leading light for the state of Kansas in providing knowledge, shaping policy, making discoveries, and elevating the quality of life for Kansans.”