Engineering Dean to Step Down

Linda Abriola guided the school to prominence in health, sustainability and the human-technology interface

Linda Abriola

Linda M. Abriola, dean of Tufts School of Engineering, will step down at the end of the 2014–15 academic year. She will have led the school for a dozen years and served two university presidents.

Since Abriola was appointed dean in 2003, the School of Engineering has substantially expanded its faculty, research activity, educational programs and administrative infrastructure to support interdisciplinary education and research. The school has become known for undergraduate and graduate education and research that benefits human health, promotes sustainability and explores the interfaces between people and technology.

“Tufts School of Engineering is a very special community with so many innovative and collaborative faculty, staff and students,” said Abriola, who also holds appointments as a professor of civil and environmental engineering and adjunct professor of chemical and biological engineering. She will return to the engineering faculty to teach and conduct research when her tenure ends.

“It has been my great joy and privilege to serve as dean, and I look forward to leading the school for another year, continuing to build its national reputation and helping maintain its remarkable upward trajectory,” she said.

“Linda Abriola has been a transformational leader for the School of Engineering and Tufts University,” said Provost David Harris. “A world-renowned scholar—she is one of only three Tufts members of the National Academy of Engineering—she has established the engineering school as a shining example of what it means to be both student-centered and a research leader. Her impact will be felt for many years to come, through the dozens of faculty she has hired and through the many students who learned to be engineers in the special environment she created.”

There is much on which to build over the coming year.

During Abriola’s tenure, the engineering faculty has grown in size and stature, and the school has become a sought-after destination for students. For the undergraduate class that will matriculate this August, the school received 3,724 applications for 200 spots, leading to a record-low acceptance rate of 14 percent; for last year’s entering class of undergraduates, the acceptance rate was 20 percent.

The school’s eight undergraduate engineering degree programs were reaccredited in 2013 by the engineering accreditation commission ABET; the B.S. in biomedical engineering received its first accreditation.

The engineering research enterprise has also flourished. Nearly 75 percent of the school’s faculty receive external grant funding, compared with 40 percent in 2003, the year Abriola became dean.

An accomplished and pioneering researcher, Abriola has expertise in groundwater contamination and remediation. She and her Tufts collaborators received the 2012 Project-of-the-Year Award in environmental restoration from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) for their work on innovative tools that, for the first time, can provide important information about the structure and characteristics of a contaminant source zone. They also received the award in 2006.

For the past six years of Abriola’s tenure, the School of Engineering has led the university in intellectual property disclosures, accounting for nearly half of all Tufts inventions, according to the university’s Office of Technology Licensing and Industrial Collaboration.

The school also has gained recognition for encouraging women and other underrepresented students to pursue careers in science and technology. Women comprise 24 percent of the engineering faculty and 30 percent of the undergraduate student body. Abriola, the first woman to serve as dean, was recognized in the 2010 edition of American Women of Science Since 1900, an encyclopedia about 500 of the 20th century’s most notable U.S. women scientists.

Under Abriola’s leadership, the school established the Center for STEM Diversity to foster the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in engineering and the sciences. In collaboration with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Center for STEM Diversity created the BEST (Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts) program, which has helped the school attract, admit and support more first-generation students who are interested in pursuing engineering and computer science majors. During the six-week summer bridge program, selected first-year students take two Tufts courses for credit and participate in academic and college life workshops designed to ease the transition from high school to college. The school will celebrate the graduation of its first class of BEST scholars at Commencement in May.

Harris said he will appoint a search committee by June to begin the process of identifying candidates for the deanship. The goal, he said, is to have the next dean in place by the fall 2015 semester.

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