New Department Chairs Make History

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Harvey Mudd College faculty members are called upon to demonstrate more than just scientific expertise—they must also be strong leaders. To foster this, professors are active in faculty governance positions, rotating into new roles regularly.

Effective July 1, 2014, the College introduced three new department chairs, and, in doing so, made Harvey Mudd history. Including continuing Department of Biology Chair Catherine McFadden, four of seven department chair positions are now held by women professors, marking the first female majority within the Department Chairs Committee.

New Chairs

Lisette de Pillis will chair the Department of Mathematics. De Pillis is passionate about using mathematics to look for solutions to real-world problems and works with biologists, oncologists and other mathematicians to search for new ways to treat cancer sufferers and victims of HIV infection. She is working on a book about tumor immunology modeling for the American Mathematical Society. De Pillis directed the Harvey Mudd College Global Clinic Program from 2009 to 2014 and is the Norman F. Sprague Jr. Professor in the Life Sciences and a professor of mathematics.

Kerry Karukstis will serve as chair of the Department of Chemistry. A National Science Foundation Award recipient, Karukstis researches classes of molecules that have the ability to self-assemble into complex three-dimensional structures when placed in water and other solvents. A 2012 Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) Fellow, Karukstis served as president of CUR from 2007 to 2008 and has held numerous other leadership positions within the organization. She was recognized as the CUR Volunteer of the Year in 2004 and again in 2010, and in 2003 she received the Henry T. Mudd Prize for Outstanding Service to Harvey Mudd College. Karukstis is the Ray and Mary Ingwersen Professor of Chemistry and served from 2010 to 2013 as the chair of the faculty.

Professor of Engineering Elizabeth Orwin ’95 will assume duties as chair of the Department of Engineering, the second consecutive Harvey Mudd graduate to do so. Orwin’s main research focus is in the development of a tissue-engineered cornea. She runs several industry-sponsored research projects involving tissue engineering and wound healing in skin and neural models and is a consultant on novel vision therapies for Calhoun Vision and Refractec. She’s also director of the Engman Fellowship Program.

Continuing Chairs

Professor of Music Bill Alves, chair of the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts since 2013, oversaw the hiring of Associate Professor of Art Ken Fandell, who was recently named to the Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson Chair in Arts and the Humanities. Alves, a composer and video artist, is especially interested in the Indonesian gamelan, computer music, abstract animation and visual music, and alternate tuning systems. He directs the Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan.

Ran Libeskind-Hadas returns from a yearlong sabbatical to resume his duties as chair of the Computer Science Department, a role he has held since 2011. During his tenure, the computer science field has seen rapid growth nationally, and the increases at Mudd have exceeded national trends. With three new hires this year (James Boerkoel, Beth Trushkowsky and Julie Medero), the department now stands at 13 tenure-track faculty members. Libeskind-Hadas, the R. Michael Shanahan Professor of Computer Science, studies algorithms for computational biology.

Catherine McFadden has served as biology department chair since 2012, during which time the department hired Matina Donaldson-Matasci. McFadden’s research addresses the evolutionary relationships of marine organisms. Ongoing work in her lab focuses on the development of molecular tools to facilitate species identifications and the study of evolutionary processes in corals. McFadden is the Vivian and D. Kenneth Baker Professor in the Life Sciences and the program director of the 5-C Collaborative Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education Program.

Peter Saeta returns as chair of the Department of Physics, a position he’s held since 2011. The department has received numerous NSF grants and recently hired Assistant Professor of Physics Sharon Gerbode, a 2012 Cottrell Grant recipient. Saeta researches the limits to absorption enhancement in thin-film solar cells from plasmonics. Saeta is working on putting Harvey Mudd’s first-year mechanics course online as a resource for both Harvey Mudd students and advanced high school students interested in physics. He is also authoring a book on statistical mechanics.

Outgoing Chairs

Andrew Bernoff served as chair of the mathematics department for the past five years. He spearheaded the creation of the Michael Moody lecture series, created a postdoctoral fellowship in the department and is the principal investigator of the $800,000 NSF grant that supports the program. The fellowship trains recent PhDs in teaching, mentoring undergraduate research and thriving on the faculty of a liberal arts college; the first five postdoctoral fellows have gone on to tenure-track positions at peer institutions. During his tenure, the department created an experiential learning space supporting Clinic and summer research in the Sprague Center and moved to new offices in the R. Michael Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning. Bernoff is co-founder of the UCLA-Harvey Mudd Applied Mathematics Summer Research Program—which has provided research experiences for dozens of Harvey Mudd undergraduates—and he presently co-supervises an applied math summer program at Macalester College that has introduced Harvey Mudd students to research in biological swarming. His research program was recently recognized by a 2013 SIAM Best Paper Prize and a 2014 Simons Foundation Collaboration grant.

Zee Durón ’81 took the helm in 2007 and served as engineering department chair for seven years. The department recognized him for his curricular and programmatic innovations, for his dedication to the career development of faculty and staff and for his work to enhance the student learning experience at the College. Durón is an expert in the full-scale field testing of large structures, including seismic investigations and earthquake engineering.

Michael Erlinger served as interim chair of the Computer Science Department for the 2013–2014 academic year. Erlinger researches computer networking and has worked extensively in the areas of network security and management. He is the Csilla and Walt Foley Professor of Computer Science.

Hal Van Ryswyk served as chair of the chemistry department for six years. Notable accomplishments during this time include the hiring of two scholars (Katherine Van Heuvelen and Lelia Hawkins), implementation of a new core sequence in chemistry and successful completion of the Stauffer Challenge, which provides endowed support for Harvey Mudd chemistry students during the 10-week summer research program. Van Ryswyk is a materials chemist working to create low-cost photovoltaics that can be produced easily for large-area applications.