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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An engineer trained in sports psychology will join the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s engineering college to help sharpen team building and communication skills.

Dr. Elaine Seat this fall will take an 18-month leave from Lockheed Martin Energy Systems in Oak Ridge to join the college.

Dr. Roger Parsons, UT professor of mechanical engineering, said Seat’s background is well suited to help the college change its educational offerings.

”In industry today, teams of people work on complex projects often with social, ethical and environmental consequences,” Parsons said. ”We do a good job teaching the technical aspects of engineering, but our friends in industry tell us students also need to learn to work in teams and communicate effectively.”

For her doctorate in human performance, Seat studied sports psychology and motor behavior, with a minor in psychology. She also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, all from UT.

”I studied sports psychology but my ‘athletes’ are technical people solving problems,” she said. ”I thought I would be an engineer forever, but about five years ago I became much more interested in how the job was done than in the job.”

In addition to teaching team skills, Seat also will help develop a minor in human performance.

Dr. Fred Gilliam, associate engineering dean for academics, said Seat’s diverse academic credentials and interest in engineering education made her a solid choice for the position, funded by a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant.

The NSF grant is part of the foundation’s ”Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Engineering” program, which has the goal of increasing the number of women leaders in science and engineering education.

Seat helped with a pilot engineering education program for freshmen that has been in place at UT-Knoxville one year. The college has applied to NSF for a $1.5 million grant to expand it.

”We started with 60 students last year,” Gilliam said. ”This fall we’ll expand it to 150 students and, a year from now, open it up to about 400, which will be the entire entering class.

”We are looking at everything from curriculum to student recruiting, to labs, to retention — the whole works.”