Engineering Dean Named a University Professor

Linda Abriola joins four other prominent scholars at Tufts in holding the distinguished title
Linda Abriola
“I am deeply honored to receive this distinguished professorship,” says Linda Abriola. Photo: J.J. Zhou
March 25, 2015

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Linda Abriola, dean of the School of Engineering and a professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been named a University Professor, the highest academic honor conferred at Tufts. It is a distinction currently held by just four other faculty members here. Abriola is the first woman to receive the appointment.

Abriola, who has been dean since 2003, was one of the first to develop a mathematical model that describes the migration of organic liquid contaminants in the subsurface—or, more simply, how organic chemical pollutants travel within and contaminate our groundwater resources.

She is particularly known for her work on the characterization and remediation of underground aquifers contaminated by chlorinated solvents, a family of chemicals used as degreasers and in dry cleaning that are known carcinogens and harmful to ecological health.

The president and provost recommend faculty for University Professorships, which are approved by the Board of Trustees. The designation is an honor reserved for faculty of unusual scholarly eminence who are also exemplary citizens of the Tufts community.

“This appointment honors Linda Abriola for her work as a transformative leader of the School of Engineering and the university, as well as her outstanding reputation as a researcher in the field of groundwater remediation,” said Provost David Harris.

An event celebrating Abriola’s appointment will be held on April 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. in Alumnae Lounge in the Aidekman Arts Center. She will present a lecture open to the Tufts community, followed by a reception. Those interested in attending should RSVP to provost@tufts.edu by Friday, April 3.

“I am deeply honored to receive this distinguished professorship,” Abriola said. “My past 12 years as dean of the School of Engineering have been the most rewarding and productive of my academic career. It has been both a joy and a privilege to be a part of this wonderful community, and I look forward to continuing my relationship with the university in this new capacity.”

Abriola will step down as dean at the end of this academic year and return to the faculty to teach and conduct research. She is a principal investigator in Tufts’ Integrated Multiphase Environmental Systems Laboratory and an adjunct professor of chemical and biological engineering.

In 2003, Abriola was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest professional honors accorded an engineer. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. Prior to coming to Tufts, she was the Horace Williams King Collegiate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.

The author of more than 140 refereed publications, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including designation as an ISI Highly Cited Author in Ecology/Environment in 2002 and the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Project of the Year Award in Remediation in 2006 and 2012. Drexel University, where she earned her B.S. in civil engineering, presented her with its 2013 Engineering Leader of the Year Award in recognition of her achievements in environmental engineering; she was the first woman to be so honored.

Under Abriola’s leadership, the School of Engineering has grown in size and stature. Applications to the school’s undergraduate programs have increased dramatically—up 108 percent since 2006. The 14 percent acceptance rate for the class of 2017 was the lowest in school history. There has been similar growth in graduate education, with a 62 percent increase in the number of master’s degrees and 52 percent more Ph.D.s conferred in the past four years.

A longtime advocate for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, Abriola was recognized as one of 500 of the 20th century’s most notable American women scientists in American Women of Science Since 1900 (ABC-CLIO, 2010).

“Science and technology are playing an increasingly important role in our society, yet women are still significantly underrepresented in so many engineering and science fields,” she said. “It is crucial for young women to understand that they can be leaders in this space, that they can achieve both fulfilling personal lives and successful professional careers as engineers and scientists.”

The School of Engineering has more female faculty and students than national averages. Some 23 percent of its tenured faculty are women, much higher than the national equivalent rate of about 14 percent. Roughly a third of undergraduate and graduate engineering students at Tufts are women, some 45 percent higher than national figures.

In addition to her leadership at Tufts, Abriola has been active in the national sphere. She served on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, the National Research Council (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research Advisory Committee.

She was also a member of the NRC’s Committee on Ground Water Cleanup Alternatives, which was the first NRC committee to investigate the efficacy of pump-and-treat technologies; the NRC Committee on Gender Differences in Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty; and the NAE’s Offshoring Engineering Workshop Committee.

Abriola recently served as an elected member of the NAE’s governing council and as a member of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee. She is currently a member of the NAE Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy and the NRC Division Committee on Engineering and Physical Sciences.

Tufts President Burton C. Hallowell created the position of University Professor in 1975, naming William B. Schwartz, a former professor and chair of medicine at the School of Medicine who made landmark discoveries that revolutionized our understanding of the pathophysiology and the management of acid-base and electrolyte disorders, as the first recipient. The second faculty member to hold the title was Allan Cormack, a physicist who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work that led to the development of the CAT scan.

Besides Abriola, the other University Professors at Tufts are Daniel C. Dennett, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies; former provost Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor; Irwin H. Rosenberg, the Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition, former dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and former director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging; and David Walt, the Robinson Professor of Chemistry and founding director of the Tufts Institute for Innovation.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.