Oleksandr (Alex) Kravchenko's father has recently picked up fishing. When Alex was growing up in Ukraine, his father - a busy engineer - never had the time. "Now, he will tell me what he has learned about fishing in Virginia and occasionally we will go fishing together," he said. "Sometimes we'll catch something. Sometimes it's more the experience that counts."
Kravchenko, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, commutes from Yorktown where he lives with his wife, Val, 5-year-old daughter Eva, 5, and 1-year-old son, Misha. For the past eight months, they have also shared their home with his parents who were displaced during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Kravchenko grew up in southern Ukraine in Melitopol, whose name in Greek translates to "City of Honey." The area, just north of Crimea, is famous for its cherry plantations and engine-building industry.
Engineering was a logical choice for Kravchenko - both of his parents and his brother are engineers. "My brother, who is four years older, went to the same engineering school before me, Kharkiv Aviation Institute" he said. "He would come back to visit from college, and we would talk about all the cool stuff he learned."
After college and a few years working in an engineering design position at an aircraft assembly plant, it was an easy transition to graduate school in the American Midwest. "My wife is from Kansas, so every time we went to Kansas, I would tell her that it looks kind of like where I'm from," he said. "And then when she visited my hometown and saw the wheat fields and blue sky, she said, 'Wow, it looks very much like Kansas.' So, we joke about this now."
After earning his doctorate from Purdue University's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Kravchenko spent two years as a research associate at Case Western Reserve University before landing at Old Dominion University in 2017.
Kravchenko's research is on composite materials, particularly how manufacturing conditions influence the uncertainty in the microstructure and mechanical behavior. He offers one of the examples of collaboration with industry in his group. "We work with a company that develops composite materials for automotive applications. The material can be a random or woven mat of a pre-impregnated sheet of glass fiber that is stamped into different components. The computational modeling tools that we develop and validate experimentally can be used by the structural engineer to design an optimal door, skid plates or even a lift gate. In our research we look at understanding the link between the materials science and complex morphology created during fabrication, so the lessons that we learn from one process used in aerospace, like automated fiber placement, can be applied to other novel manufacturing methods, such as continuous fiber 3D printing," he said.
Kravchenko appreciates the variety of students at ODU. "I like the mix of students that we have in the Batten College with veterans, and students from different ways of life and different experiences," he said. "I think it enriches the classroom experience for everybody."
This year, Kravchenko has faced a few challenges outside of the classroom.
On February 24, Melitopol was attacked by the Russian Army. Kravchenko learned about the war from social media and immediately called his parents. "It was still early morning, around 5 a.m.," he said. "They were just waking up because of the explosions."
"They packed two bags and left their business, their apartment and their friends," he explained. "They made their way to Bucharest where they were able to fly into the United States and settle with the family. "My parents are problem solvers. Now in Virginia they always stay busy and help with everything they can get their hands on. We are all very happy to be together," he said.
Kravchenko believes the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a simple matter of right and wrong. "It's important to look at the moment and recognize Russia as an aggressor that is committing crimes and atrocities," he said. "It gives strength to all of us to see that the whole world knows that and stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine."