It is with mixed feelings that we announce the bittersweet news that University Professor Linda Abriola will be leaving Tufts University in January to become the Sorensen Family Professor of Engineering at Brown University. Professor Abriola joined Tufts University in 2003 as the dean of the School of Engineering (SOE), serving for 12 years in that role. She was recruited to this position from the University of Michigan, where she held the Horace Williams King Collegiate Professorship in Environmental Engineering.
At the time of her arrival at Tufts, the SOE had recently been formed from the ‘School of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering’ and the new SOE’s organizational structure, infrastructure, and faculty size were inadequate to support its aspirations. During her tenure as dean, Professor Abriola expanded the SOE’s footprint, growing from approximately 86,000 sq ft to more than 161,000 sq ft, and increased its staffing to support financial and research administration and communications. The SOE Advancement organization was founded during her time as dean; from 2005-2015, the SOE raised $110 million for capital purposes and $12.8 million through the annual fund and secured eight new endowed professorships.
Professor Abriola was also instrumental in shaping the SOE faculty. Over her deanship, the tenure-track faculty size grew from 54, of whom eight were women and nine were ethnic minorities, to 81, with 18 women and 17 ethnic minorities. When she stepped down in 2015, 46 of the 81 faculty members had been recruited during her tenure as dean. In addition, she spearheaded the evolution of the SOE’s educational model to include an important role for non‐tenure track Professors of the Practice, who are now providing leadership in engineering design curricula, as well as a direct connection to industry and engineering practice.
In tandem with its faculty development, the SOE experienced tremendous growth in its research activity during her deanship. Between FY04 and FY15, research expenditures increased by almost 400%, and the SOE attained its leadership position within Tufts in intellectual property disclosures. In this same period, there was a substantial growth in the graduate cohort, with PhD degrees awarded increasing more than five‐fold. Undergraduate education, always a hallmark of engineering at Tufts, was also enhanced. In collaboration with the Dean of Admissions, the SOE developed a new communications and recruitment plan, leading to increasing quality and selectivity and a more than doubling of applications, with the net attrition of students from the SOE to A&S dropping below zero. In addition, the SOE grew its female undergraduate engineering student cohort, which eventually exceeded one third of the student body – at that time almost double the national average. Professor Abriola has always been a champion of gender, ethnic, and economic diversity. Under her leadership, the SOE founded the Center for STEM Diversity and piloted the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program.
Throughout her career, Professor Abriola has sought to foster interdisciplinary research and education. She built her reputation as an environmental researcher at the intersection of experiments and mathematical modeling, with much of her research involving collaborations with colleagues from diverse academic disciplines. As the dean of the SOE, she did much to strengthen cross-school collaborations among Tufts faculty. Consistent with the SOE’s outward-looking mission, three focus areas for interdisciplinary education and research were identified in the SOE strategic plan: Engineering for Human Health, Engineering for Sustainability, and Engineering the Human‐Technology Interface. Faculty members were recruited in each of these strategic areas across all departments, a strategy that led to numerous fruitful faculty collaborations, and a number of new cross‐disciplinary research and graduate education initiatives.
As dean, Professor Abriola also endeavored to bring her interdisciplinary outlook into the undergraduate experience. She created and charged an SOE Curriculum Task Force, composed of faculty, alumni, and students, with revision of the SOE curricula and educational approaches to stress interdisciplinary, team‐oriented, and project‐based learning; to strengthen professional practice curricular components; and to emphasize leadership skill development. Other significant curricular developments during her tenure included an undergraduate major in biomedical engineering and interdisciplinary minors in music engineering, engineering education, and entrepreneurial leadership studies.
In her current role as Director of Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), Professor Abriola has had the opportunity to foster cross-disciplinary environmental education and research throughout the University through a variety of internal fellowship and grants programs. These programs have supported exciting student and faculty endeavors that link the natural and health sciences and engineering to the social sciences, humanities, and arts. As TIE Director, she has also helped establish and manage external partnerships with such entities as the Stockholm Environment Institute, US, rated as the world’s most influential think tank on environmental policy issues, and Greentown Labs, the United States’ largest cleantech incubator, enhancing internship and collaboration opportunities for Tufts students and faculty. Under TIE, Professor Abriola also led the creation and launch of a new twelve-month, cross-university, interdisciplinary professional Master of Science program in Sustainable Water Management (SWM). This program, designed around four intellectual tracks and including a common, team-taught, interdisciplinary core, is drawing a disciplinary and globally diverse cohort.
For her many important and lasting contributions to the SOE and Tufts University, we owe Professor Abriola a debt of gratitude. Under her leadership, Tufts Engineering was transformed into a world-class research institution while keeping its focus on excellent undergraduate education. We will miss her greatly but wish her continued success in her new position.
Anthony Monaco, President
Nadine Aubry, Provost and Senior Vice President
Jianmin Qu, Dean, School of Engineering