The University of Central Florida today named Grace Bochenek ’98PhD its new director of the School of Modeling, Simulation and Training following a national search.

Bochenek brings more than 25 years of experience working in defense and energy research, most recently as director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

Her experience driving innovation through technology and leading large organizations at a national level make her a good fit for the advanced and multi-facetted school, especially because of the importance of modeling and simulation to the nation and region.

The school is home to the nationally recognized Institute for Simulation & Training and UCF’s Modeling & Simulation Graduate Program. The institute is renowned for its cutting-edge, human-centered simulation research, while the graduate program produces graduates who are sought out by government and commercial companies looking for employees who can lead in these evolving fields.

The school is in Central Florida Research Park alongside more than 100 companies and the National Center for Simulation and Training. Orlando serves as a national hub for the simulation industry, employing more than 30,000 people and contributing $6 billion to Florida’s regional GDP, according to the Florida High Tech Corridor and Orlando Economic Partnership.

Bochenek also previously was the director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center from 2006 to 2012. The center is now called the U.S. Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center. Afterward, she was the chief technology officer of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, and in 2017 she served as acting secretary of energy for the U.S. Department of Energy during the White House transition.

“Dr. Bochenek’s rich, broad experience and leadership clearly made her the best-qualified candidate for the position,” says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for research and the dean of the College of Graduate Studies at UCF. Klonoff oversees SMST and charged a committee of faculty and staff to conduct the national search.

“She will hit the ground running because she is no stranger to the companies and agencies SMST works with here in Central Florida and at the national level,” Klonoff says. “She also brings first-hand knowledge about the workforce that will help enhance our graduate program.”

During her tenure with the federal government, Bochenek routinely worked with Team Orlando, a collaborative alliance of U.S. military organizations working in modeling, simulation and training, and what today is the U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando.

She also understands the importance of education. At the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Bochenek established the Office of Science and Technology Career Management for recruiting, developing and retaining world-class talent. The office provides services for joint faculty, post doctorate, graduate and undergraduate programs. Bochenek has been a long-time advocate for diversity and inclusion.

“I was attracted to the position because of UCF’s reputation within the Department of Defense and for its excellence in engineering, modeling, simulation and training,” says Bochenek, who earned her doctorate in industrial and systems engineering from UCF in 1998.

“SMST touches everything from defense to energy, entertainment, healthcare, to space and transportation,” she says. “It is foundational and when coupled with the talent and intellectual capacity here, opportunities are endless. On a personal note, it is good to return to this prestigious university, the place that propelled me onto a course changing my life forever.”

Bochenek is scheduled to start at UCF on June 1. At the top of her to-do list is engaging with faculty and students, meeting with researchers across the university and partner organizations to gain a deeper understanding of the work already being done at UCF, and to find new opportunities that align with the growing needs in the region and nation.

IST is already a leader in simulation. It was awarded $13.5 million in research funding last year, and its faculty and students work with many government agencies and contractors. The research has applications in education, healthcare, space, cybersecurity and other fields.

Bochenek says: “Today our world can be characterized by the pace of change and the time and desire for technology development; the connected nature of our lives, our work and our everyday living; the intense competition for talent, resources, to be first, and to be the best; and the complexity across so many business sectors. In this world our ability to understand, predict, develop and create, to turn ideas into solutions, will require an unprecedented need for modeling and simulation.

“My vision for SMST is to pursue the most impactful research and pathways, ensuring an engaging academic experience for all students and building on UCF’s modeling, simulation and training reputation of excellence through partnerships, collaborations and expanding our opportunities.”

Bochenek also has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Wayne State University, a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Michigan. She was awarded the Department of Energy Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the Department of Army Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service Medal and the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service, among many others.

“This region has such a strong research ecosystem and I know there are opportunities to broaden our work in ways we haven’t even imagined,” Bochenek says. “There are many issues and challenges facing our nation. With the talent here, flexibility and drive, UCF can provide the thought leadership and research depth needed to make impactful contributions. I look forward to joining the university and being an integral part of the community.”