Emerging Leader

Tahira Reid Smith, Ph.D.

Purdue University

For championing compassionate, human-centered design in engineering; and for authentic leadership as a researcher, role model, and mentor who brings her lived experience to work.

Tahira Reid Smith, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. In this role, she serves as director of the Research in Engineering and Interdisciplinary Design (REID) Laboratory, overseeing the education and research training of graduate students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in mechanical engineering.

Dr. Reid Smith’s research involves the quantification and integration of human-centered considerations in engineering systems and/or the design process. An innovative area of her research consists of studies on the thermal properties of curly hair, which has garnered significant media attention and led to translational impacts with sponsors.

The persistent lack of information on exactly how much heat can be applied to hair without causing permanent damage had long been a source of frustration for Black women, limiting their choices of styling options and products. In collaboration with Amy Marconnet, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue, Dr. Reid Smith carried out a series of studies to explore answers to this issue. She and her colleagues developed novel techniques to measure the thermal properties of hair and evidence-based guidelines for the usage of flat irons, thus empowering individuals with curly hair greater information and agency regarding their hair-styling options.

Though advised to wait until receiving tenure to pursue this research area, Dr. Reid Smith never doubted its potential. Her steadfastness was quickly affirmed with widespread attention in major media outlets. Her work empowers other researchers by demonstrating how unconventional research agendas shaped by a concern for diversity and inclusion can open new routes to success and high-impact studies.

Dr. Reid Smith’s projects have received funding from the National Science Foundation, Procter & Gamble, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and many others. Her research has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals and conference publications, and she is a sought-after keynote and guest speaker.

She is the founding co-chair of Purdue University’s Trailblazers in Engineering program and co-founded Black in Engineering, a national collective of Black engineering faculty, students, researchers, and professionals focused on challenging racism in the profession.

Dr. Reid Smith earned a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Ph.D. in design science at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. She received the American Society for Engineering Education Outstanding New Mechanical Engineering Educator award in 2018 and is a featured inventor in the Smithsonian Lemelson Center’s Game Changers Series, among other recognitions.

Dr. Reid Smith believes in investing in the next generation and she and her husband engage with many of the young people in their lives. She enjoys exercise and activities that promote wellness and spiritual growth, and loves to keep up with the latest and greatest methods for healthy hair.