search button
newscenter logo
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Follow SDSU Follow SDSU on Twitter Follow SDSU on Facebook SDSU RSS Feed

Allen Plotkin currently holds the second-longest service to SDSU in the College of Engineering among all current engineering faculty.

Retiring Aerospace Engineering Professor Leaves Legacy As An ‘Instrumental Force’

After 37 years at SDSU and 54 years of teaching, SDSU engineering professor Allen Plotkin retires with an impressive legacy behind him.
By Melinda Sevilla

Aerospace engineering professor Allen Plotkin quite literally wrote the textbook on low-speed aerodynamics.

Plotkin’s accolades over the years include a San Diego State University Distinguished Faculty Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. 

Since joining SDSU in 1985, Plotkin has seen the development of the department over 37 years, saying that it’s “grown tremendously.”

Plotkin's teaching career spans over 50 years. He currently holds the second-longest service to SDSU in the College of Engineering among all current engineering faculty.

At the end of this semester, Plotkin will end his tenure at SDSU as a scholar, mentor and professor, and transition into his retirement. 

“To many outside SDSU, he is synonymous with aerospace engineering at SDSU," said department chair Ping Lu.

East Coast Beginnings
In Plotkin’s office hangs a framed photo of Yankee Stadium, paying homage to his hometown.

“I don’t have the typical engineering story — with me it just sort of happened,” reflects Plotkin.

A proud native of the Bronx, Plotkin attended the Bronx High School of Science where he was introduced to STEM topics and found his place in engineering classes, where his interests were in hydrodynamics, low-speed aerodynamics, fluid mechanics, and flow problems for airplanes and ships.

After attending Columbia University in New York City, he attended school at Stanford for his Ph.D., where he graduated in spring 1968.

Shortly after earning his doctorate, Plotkin accepted a position at the University of Maryland College Park, where he remained for 16 years. 

In 1985, Plotkin leaped to the west coast, accepting a position in SDSU’s College of Engineering.

Low-Speed Aerodynamics
After joining SDSU as chair of the Aerospace Engineering department, Plotkin went on the quest to hire more faculty to run the department alongside him. His first hire at SDSU ended up being his co-author for his textbook.

Joseph Katz, a professor from Israel, was hired in 1986 by Plotkin and quickly became a right-hand man. “We were from different parts of the world solving the same problem,” said Plotkin. Katz and Plotkin alternated as department chairs over 24 years.

The professors saw a need for bringing the material up to date, as the current textbook was in need of modernization. He and Katz collaborated on the textbook, covering different aspects of the material. Katz said the textbook “was a direct result of our common interest and friendship.”

In 2001 the textbook transitioned to a new publisher and regained popularity as a text of choice to this day.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that this has been the leading international text in aerodynamics over all this time.”

Plotkin’s long distinguished services at SDSU include 12 years as chair in four different cycles. He has served as the chair of the aerospace engineering department for most of the time that it has existed. 

His leadership during this time has been described as an “instrumental force,” said  Lu.

Moving Forward
This year, Plotkin has decided to retire, a decision he postponed in 2020. 

“The last thing I wanted to do was to retire off campus,” referring to the pandemic that sent many aspects of campus life remote for almost two years.

Though Plotkin has seen the department through difficult times (he received a layoff notice in 1992 amid a budget crisis, later rescinded), he says that the department is now very healthy and enrollment is strong. Its graduate program is ranked No. 50 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. 
Aerospace engineering classes are also the largest that they’ve ever been.
“It’s nice to relax a bit and let things develop as they have over the last few years,” he said. “The department is a good size with good people and strong senior faculty,” including the half of the department’s faculty that were hired in the last six years.

In retirement, Plotkin looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Selena, and their two daughters, Samantha, an SDSU alumnae, and Jenny, a graduate of CSU San Marcos. Jenny has twin daughters in North County who Plotkin looks forward to seeing more frequently. And, he is planning lots of traveling with his spouse.