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Dr. James Nau

James Nau, Ph.D., joined NC State as an assistant professor in 1982 and rose to the rank of professor in 2000 and earned professor emeritus status before retiring in 2022.

During his 40 years at NC State, he taught numerous courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels including statics, solid mechanics, reinforced concrete design, structural steel design, and the senior design project course.

Nau won countless awards and accolades for his teaching, including the AT&T Foundation Award for Excellence in Instruction of Engineering Students; the NC State Outstanding Teacher Award; George K. Wadlin Distinguished Service Award, Civil Engineering Division, from the American Society for Engineering Education; the Chi Epsilon Excellence in Teaching Award for the Cumberland District; and NC State’s Alumni Association’s Alumni Distinguished Professor award.

Working with Dr. Mervyn Kowalsky and other CCEE faculty members, Nau’s research is mainly in the area of earthquake engineering. Over the years, he has been engaged in research projects on the seismic response, repair, and durability of steel and concrete bridge components. This research, supported by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, involves material and large-scale experimentation at the Constructed Facilities Lab. Nau’s research interests include various means of structural repair of earthquake-damaged components and systems.

“During his 40 years of employment at North Carolina State University in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Nau’s achievements brought recognition to the department and university; and he has been a factor in helping NC State earn its excellent reputation in civil engineering,” said former Department Head Dr. Morton Barlaz.

Nau was also known for the positive impact he had on his hundreds of students over the years.

Bill Martin (BSCE 2007, MSCE 2010), president of Tower Engineering Professionals, TEP Design Build, Tower Engineering Canada, remembered having Nau for a wood design course and senior design class. He noted that, although Nau continued to make a considerable impact through research on civil and structural modeling and materials, he still emphasized teaching.

“The best teachers have a way of explaining complex topics in simple terms, resulting in a broad understanding of the material,” Martin said. “Dr. Nau embodied this ideal and explored topics until they were ‘crystal’ clear to his students. His approach to teaching went beyond just reviewing content, he demonstrated its use, leading to a full understanding and bridging the gap between theory and design. I routinely referenced his course notes early in my career.”

Martin credited Nau with his decision to pursue a career in the field of civil and structural engineering, helping build Tower Engineering from a 15-person regional engineering firm to a more than 1,000-person engineering and construction firm serving the U.S. and Canada.

“Dr. Nau’s influence has a cascading effect and his retirement, although well deserved, will create a large void in the civil engineering program,” he said. “Those are going to be some big shoes to fill. He is an incredible teacher.”

Similarly, Nau had a big influence on Sarah Mann (MSCE 2020), whose first class with Nau was Reinforced Concrete Design.

“I always looked forward to going to his class because you could tell he enjoyed teaching,” she said. “He was always willing to talk and answer questions about anything. He definitely helped motivate my interest in wanting to become a professor because I want to exemplify his teaching style and philosophies.”

CCEE teaching professor Steve Welton (BSCE 1988, MSCE 1992) said he was lucky enough to have Nau as both an instructor and, later, a colleague.

“I have been honored to have Dr. Nau’s mentoring on both ends of my career,” he said. “During the last nine years, I have enjoyed the pleasure of having Dr. Nau as a colleague and a dear friend. His assistance has enabled me to have a successful transition to academia, and now to be able to serve as a teaching professor. As a former student, I am indebted to Dr. Nau; and now, as my very dear friend, he is Jim.”

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