After 15 years of having the privilege to lead this department, I recently announced my decision to step down as head at the end of July 2021. Following a sabbatical, I will return to continue teaching and researching in the department. I am incredibly proud of our accomplishments during this period as we have transitioned from a small chemical engineering program of nine faculty and about 150 students to a more diverse family of 21 faculty and over 500 undergraduate and graduate students. Our research portfolio has broadened with unprecedented productivity in terms of grants, publications, and awards. I would like to take this opportunity, my last message to you as your department head, to summarize some of our significant accomplishments over this time.
Since 2006, CBE has had its largest growth period in its eighty-five-year history. Major changes include more than doubling the size of the faculty, including adding three UT-ORNL Governor’s Chairs, two assistant professors and one associate professor from racial and ethnic minorities, the first female endowed chair, and a professor of practice; increasing the number of graduate students from 20 to 60, of which 96 percent are PhD students; increasing the number of undergraduate students from 95 to over 400; and an increase in faculty annual research expenditures from $140K to $360K.
Eighty percent of our new assistant professor hires have received well-earned NSF Early CAREER Awards—a first in the history of the program and something I prioritized during my tenure. Additionally, one junior hire also received a DARPA Young Investigator Award and two of our associate professor hires had received the CAREER award prior to joining our program.
Growing our student population has also been a key priority. We created and implemented a highly successful graduate and undergraduate student recruiting program with an emphasis on diversifying. We have since experienced the highest student growth period in the history of the department. At the same time, the percentage of our female undergraduate and graduate students has increased from 25 to 45 percent and from 3 to 20 percent, respectively.
To finance this unprecedented growth, we had to secure significant resources from internal and external entities via various activities, including major development efforts. Most notable accomplishments on this front include securing $6M to renovate instructional and research laboratories, faculty and staff offices, and student common areas; creating a $2.75M endowment for faculty chairs and professorships; and increasing the department’s permanent endowment for graduate fellowships from $250K to more than $2.5M.
As I close this year’s message, I want to take the opportunity to sincerely thank all of our alumni, donors, and corporate sponsors who have continuously supported us over the years to enable this tremendous growth—it truly takes a team effort. I am confident the work we have all performed over the past 15 years will continue to bear fruit well into the future. The department is poised for continuous growth in terms of productivity, diversity, and reputation. I am looking forward to our continuing interactions in the future, as well as to watching the ongoing success of our amazing students, alumni, and faculty.
Granger and Beaman Distinguished University Professor
Head, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering