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Scott Hagen

Scott Hagen

Corn to Computers

Dr. Scott Hagen grew up farming in Iowa. In fact, he continued to work the farm for ten years after high school, before pursuing his college education at the University of Iowa. While working, he began with Saturday and evening courses. His sister is a structural engineer in the civil engineering field and at that time encouraged him to pursue chemical engineering as a major. However, when conducting undergraduate research, a professor at Iowa introduced him to hydraulics and water resources. Hagen has never looked back.

“I developed a thermal regime model for the Missouri River as an undergraduate and discovered that I had an aptitude for civil engineering,” says Hagen. He impressed the faculty at the University of Notre Dame when conducting undergraduate research at a summer program there. He was invited to stay on and work; and, when he graduated from Iowa, he ultimately earned his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Notre Dame.

He identified his true research interest as large-scale coastal and estuarine modeling. As the director of the Coastal Hydroscience Analysis, Modeling & Predictive Simulations Laboratory (CHAMPS Lab), Hagen has established the Lab and UCF as a premier institution for coastal and estuarine research. The lab's modeling capabilities, for example, enable Hagen and others to not only predict the ebb and flow of ocean tides, but also to predict the impact to surface water by such forces as wind. This capability is useful for modeling the potential impact to large water bodies by hurricanes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through the Northwest Florida Water Management District, has funded projects for the CHAMPS Lab to do just that.

While working on his dissertation, he defined a breakthrough method assessing numerical model errors and adjusting their respective computational spacings to enhance accuracy and efficiency of the calculation of surface water flows. Some of Hagen's research at UCF has been to further this approach. Now, one of his Ph.D. students has extended that research to advance the method significantly.

Hagen came to UCF in 1997. He was finalist at other institutions, but the UCF position is the one he accepted. In addition to three successful Ph.D. defenses, he has mentored thirteen Masters theses graduates. One of the Ph.D.s has stayed on as a post-doctoral associate, whom Hagen hopes to help become a university faculty at some point.

“This forthcoming project is the one that I'm most proud of,” says Hagen. “Its associated grant became possible because of our FEMA research on developing the state-of-the-art model for coastal inundation.” UCF is only one of three universities conducting such modeling work; this research at Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina, along with UCF, is considered the standard by FEMA.

“We develop the model and produce the results that is used to determine the 100-years flood plane elevation line. Flood insurance, for example, will not cover those structures located within the plane. Our work will guide where development will occur in coastal regions of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi for years to come,” Hagen adds. “We are spanning that entire panhandle shoreline with UCF modeling.”

In August 2010, Hagen and his team received a $3 Million grant to study the ecological impacts of sea level rise on the coastline. The areas to be studied are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System and, coincidentally, overlap with the region most directly impacted from the BP oil spill.

Because of his expertise, Hagen put forth a rapid response National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal to do oil spill transport modeling, along with Ohio State University. That proposal was funded and the research is underway.

Hagen is confident in his team: “It is not a big stretch that if we're studying ecological impacts of sea level rise, we're prepared to study ecological impacts of the oil spill. The sea level rise work will help project impact to estuaries, which will aid development models, future levees, future cities and how to protect them.“


Hagen developed the applications of calculus II course. Initially, the vision was to show freshmen how the calculus they were learning was being used in research. “We discovered that freshmen are not focused on research just yet. So, we modified it to focus on how calculus is used in higher-level courses and in the real world,” says Hagen. They identified six faculty members, each giving two lectures that demonstrate the uses of the calculus in other courses and some research applications. He adds, “Our analysis shows this approach is critical to their success in calculus and ultimately in engineering.”

The EXCEL program also helps coalesce its approximately 200 students, which creates a community for these like-minded students, among the more than fifty thousand at UCF. It gives them a small college feel at the second largest university in the nation. Many live in the same dorms, which helps further their small-college atmosphere, surrounding their education. “I think that's a big reason it has been so successful. It shows the students while they are taking calculus that it has significance in the world.” Hagen is Co-PI on the original grant for EXCEL, with Dr. Cherie Geiger in Chemistry, Dr. Parkinson in Biology, and Dr. Alvaro Islas, in Mathematics, all of whom are UCF EXCEL Coordinators. The PIs in the grant, Dr. Georgiopoulos from EECS, Dr. Young in Mathematics, the EXCEL Coordinators, and numerous other STEM professors have contributed to EXCEL's successes, assisted in these efforts by dedicated staff from 11 different UCF offices.

“I have been impressed with how well the UCF administration, particularly the Provost's office, has supported the EXCEL program.” I know that other institutions and NSF itself have made us aware they are impressed with the program.


In Spring 2010, the Academy of Coast Ocean Ports and Navigational Engineers made Hagen a Diplomate of Coastal Engineering, in their Inaugural Conference. “I'm particularly proud of this award, because my Ph.D. is in Civil Engineering. To be nationally recognized by my peers in the area of Coastal Engineering is something that I'm overwhelmed by,” says Hagen. He is also honored to be a board member of the Coast, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute of the American Society of the Civil Engineers.

Hagen beams when he describes a recent paper of his, published in the Journal of Hydrology. One of his coauthors is Vincent Cardone, who is founder and president of Oceanweather, Inc. “I cited a seminal work of his when I was an undergraduate. Now, I have published with him and have consulted for his company. As an Iowa farm boy, that's a real testament to what education can do for you.”

Just Desserts

Not only has UCF been an environment for Hagen to flourish and contribute, you might say it gave back to him, as well. “On November 14, 1997, I attended a grant-writing workshop. That's where I met my wife, Dr. Denise DeLorme, who is also a professor at UCF.”