An Interview With FPE’s First Clinical Professor

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Clinical Professor Kenneth E. Isman (B.S. '86).

This August, the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) welcomed its first endowed Clinical Professor, Kenneth E. Isman (B.S. ’86). Isman’s appointment was made possible by the department’s Legacy Campaign for a professor of the practice and the support of the A. James Clark School of Engineering, which is providing short-term funding for the position as fundraising continues toward the campaign’s $2,500,000 goal.

Isman, a noted expert on sprinkler systems and pumps, is currently teaching two undergraduate courses, ENFP 250: Introduction to Life Safety Analysis and ENFP 310: Water Based Fire Protection Systems Design. He also has plans to develop new electives for the department.

Now midway through his first semester, he tells us how he’s doing, what he hopes to accomplish in his new role, and why he decided to transition into academia.

FPE: How are things going? Have there been any adjustments or challenges?

Isman: Everything seems to be going well so far. My biggest challenge has been trying to figure out how to cover the difficult and complex subjects that need to be discussed in the short time we have available in a semester. In a 3-credit class, we only have about 37 hours of class time total…That's not enough time to cover the subjects completely, so I need to learn how to pick and choose the most important [topics]. 

FPE: Why were you excited about this opportunity to become a professor?

Isman: I've always enjoyed teaching. There is a moment–I call it the "light bulb" moment–when the person you're teaching suddenly understands. You can see their whole face light up. It's that moment I enjoy, knowing that [I’ve] made a difference…That's why I love to teach.

FPE: You’ll be taking one of your classes to the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) this semester. What will you be doing?

Isman: MFRI has a sprinkler lab with several different types of working sprinkler systems and even more props that can be used to show people how [they] work. Rather than just show the students slides and pictures of valves and pumps, we can show them the actual equipment and let them take it apart and put it back together…MFRI also has facilities where we can flow water and we can show the students what the discharge pattern from different types of sprinklers look like. Fire sprinklers are being designed with different spray patterns to protect different kinds of spaces, so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to see that. 

FPE: What else are you excited about doing, showing, or sharing? Isman: I had a pretty good education at Maryland…I think that the [FPE] program may have gotten away from some of the practical things that I learned…so I hope to bring them back. For example, when I was a student, we took an advanced design class in foam systems for petrochemical facilities, aircraft hangers and bulk storage of flammable liquids. Today, a class like that is not available to the students…I'd like to bring back real practical design classes like this that deal with real world problems that the students are going to face in their careers.

FPE: What do you personally hope to accomplish in this position?

Isman: For the last 28 years, I've been lucky to have been at the forefront of fire protection, working with people to develop new codes and standards, researching new and better ways to design fire protection systems, and helping people solve their fire protection problems with innovative solutions. Now it's time for me to share that information with the next generation of fire protection engineers. In my past role, I saw thousands of situations [in which] people needed help in dealing with real-world problems. I truly believe that I can bring a real practical sense of problem solving to the students so that they are ready to be productive employees as soon as they graduate.

Published October 26, 2014