Science & Tech

Dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences to step down

6 min read

Narayanamurti grew Division into a School

Venkatesh Narayanamurti, dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who for 10 years has directed the renewal and expansion of the former division and its transition to a School, has announced today (Feb. 15) his intention to step down from his position in September 2008.

“Venky’s leadership has had a genuinely transformative impact on engineering and applied sciences at Harvard,” said Harvard President Drew Faust.  “He has in many ways been both the architect and the chief engineer of Harvard’s newest School, and his vision, energy, and instinct for collaboration have strengthened our capacity and elevated our sights in a vital academic domain.  It’s been a pleasure to work with him, and I join his many admirers in saluting his service to the University.”

Narayanamurti, the John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, originally announced his decision to return to teaching and research in 2005, but agreed to stay on as dean to oversee the SEAS transition and launch of the new School last fall.

“It’s been a tremendous privilege to serve at Harvard and in engineering and applied sciences,” said Narayanamurti.   “I am particularly grateful for the wonderful support I have received at all levels and I believe SEAS is exceptionally well-positioned for the future.  I will watch from the sidelines with great interest as it continues to develop and take its place among the great Schools of Harvard.”

“I am, of course, saddened that the day has arrived when Venky has decided to step down as dean of the SEAS. He is a visionary leader who gets the job done. It was his leadership that moved engineering and applied sciences from a division to a School,” Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean Michael D. Smith said. “I will always cherish the memories of my work with Venky during my time as a member of the engineering faculty, and as the dean of FAS. He has been a mentor and valued colleague to so many of us at Harvard. While he is stepping down as dean, I am pleased that we will have the opportunity to continue to work with him as he resumes his full-time teaching and research activities.  I will continue to seek his counsel and his wisdom as long as he is willing to give it.”

As dean, Narayanamurti guided remarkable gains in the recruitment of junior and senior faculty. The SEAS faculty is now 50 percent larger than when he was named dean in 1998, with faculty productivity and satisfaction fostered through new research funding; mentoring for junior colleagues; and staff support to facilitate grants and contracts, communications, information technology, and development. Sponsored research has grown 60 percent over the 10 years of Narayanamurti’s leadership.

Narayanamurti was an early champion of interdisciplinary initiatives and collaboration.  In 10 years at Harvard, he has reached out to colleagues in the FAS, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard School of Public Health to establish new partnerships and build new relationships that span traditional academic boundaries. In 2003, he was appointed the first dean of physical sciences at the FAS, a position he held three years while simultaneously serving as dean of the then-Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“I am very grateful to Dean Venky for his extraordinary leadership in strengthening engineering and applied sciences at Harvard over the last decade,” said Harvard’s Provost Steven Hyman.  “Through his efforts recruiting vital new faculty, expanding interdisciplinary collaboration, and bringing SEAS to its well deserved place as a school at Harvard University, Dean Venky leaves a legacy of inspired leadership which will not be forgotten.”

Seeing students at the heart of the SEAS transformation, Narayanamurti has made it a priority to enhance student recruitment and to enrich the curriculum over the past decade.  Under his leadership, SEAS faculty have developed creative and innovative programs to attract students, including timely new courses of study in computer science, electrical engineering, and bioengineering at the graduate and undergraduate levels. During his tenure, SEAS also has seen a dramatic increase in the number of applications from graduate students, making SEAS one of the most selective programs in the country.

An accomplished scientist and administrative leader who has bridged private industry and academia, Narayanamurti has maintained an active research group in nanoscience and technology throughout his deanship. Prior to coming to Harvard, he served as dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1992 to 1998. For five years before that, he was vice president of research and exploratory technology at Sandia National Laboratories. From 1968 to 1987, he was with AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he served as director of the Solid State Electronics Research Laboratory from 1981 to 1987.
Narayanamurti holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of Delhi, and a Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University.

Narayanamurti has served on numerous national and international advisory committees and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Indian Academy of Sciences.

“In just a decade, Dean Venky has brought this center for the applied sciences to a new level of educational relevance and scholarly distinction, and his successor will inherit a vibrant and collaborative group of colleagues who are interacting productively with many other Faculties at Harvard and beyond,” said Jeremy Knowles, Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and former dean of the FAS.

“Indeed,” Knowles continued, “when in the mid 1990s we solicited Venky’s advice about the leadership of what was then the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, it was quickly clear that we wanted more than just his advice:  we wanted him.  Thus it came to pass that the FAS has benefited enormously from Venky’s insight, his high standards, and his spirit, and we are mightily grateful for all of that.”

After stepping down, Narayanamurti will continue to devote himself to teaching, research, and other forms of University service.  A faculty advisory committee chaired by Hyman and Smith will be convened soon to begin the search process for a new dean.