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Faculty spotlight: Erkan Istanbulluoglu

May 1, 2023

Fun fact: This faculty member intended to become a professional theater actor and opera singer, but studied engineering as a backup career choice.

Can you tell us more about your background as an opera singer and actor? At what point did you transition to engineering?

I fell in love with performing arts, initially theater and then opera, at the end of middle school. I grew up in a relatively small town in Turkey. Our high school did not have a theater group, so I started it. Together with a couple of my best friends, we decided to stage a comedy first. We raised money from our families and donors from local businesses to fund our initial expenses like stage décor, spotlights, and costumes. We wanted everything to look professional. Our school did not have a stage, but we wanted to rehearse on stage, so when another school that had a nice theater salon did not let us use it without teacher supervision, we found ways to break in. We staged wonderful plays during high school, and received best play and actor awards among high schools nationally. In college, I participated mostly in a professional theater group performing children’s plays, while taking drama and vocal lessons in Istanbul one day a week. To make a long story short, at some point I had to make a decision between my girlfriend (now my wife) and a more stable career in engineering, rather than a more uncertain challenging path. I chose the former, and shelved my artistic ambitions for the future. Besides, I was starting to enjoy my classes in hydraulics and water resources. Music remains a hobby. I take guitar and vocal lessons in Issaquah, the eastside of Seattle where we live, from time to time, mostly with my kids. I also used to participate in a rock band. In a few years I think I will have my own band, but I need to learn a few more tricks in electric guitar before then. After all, life is all about exploring ourselves.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy teaching at both undergrad and grad levels, though I know my classroom jokes are not the most popular. Exploring new concepts with our graduate students is also what keeps me motivated in my job. My research has always been multi-disciplinary, and integrates various aspects of Earth science and civil engineering, often based on a certain geography. Exploring how fundamental concepts apply across a range of environmental conditions is a joy, especially when numerical models decide to work!

What makes CEE unique?

I cannot think of being in another department. CEE is the interface between people and the environment, and aims to build and advance civilizations with safety and sustainability of both the built and natural environments. Our department, in particular, houses amazing talented faculty, staff and students who work, study and interact in harmony, empowering each of us individually in our personal academic and educational journeys.