URBANA - A noted University of Illinois teacher, researcher and department head is leaving to lead the engineering college at Virginia Tech.
Hassan Aref, head of the UI's Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, will start his new job as engineering dean there on April 1. He will also hold an endowed faculty position at Virginia Tech.
Aref said he has been looking for just such an administrative opportunity.
?There aren't that many positions of this kind that come up in a given year,? he said. ?At a place like Virginia Tech, the college of engineering is sort of the flagship college, somewhat like it is at Urbana. It's a reasonably strong administrative position. They want to improve the whole university, and clearly the (engineering) college is going to have to be the front-runner and that's always challenging.?
Virginia Tech officials said in a press release they expect Aref to play an important role in their efforts to bring the university into a top-30 ranking.
In his 10 years at the UI, Aref has helped revive his department by making it more active and prominent on campus, promoting interdisciplinary research, increasing its funding and attracting better graduate students.
?I think they (Virginia Tech) saw that and they liked what they saw, and I think they thought if I could do something similar for their college, that's terrific,? Aref said.
He also started a seminar series that brings in leading researchers in his field to speak to students and faculty.
?This is a really valuable mechanism to expose our students to the world's premier researchers and scholars,? said David Daniel, dean of the UI's College of Engineering. ?It's just one example of the high visibility and energy he brought to the college.?
The UI hosted a major conference, the 20th International Congress of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, in 2000. Aref began working to have the UI host the event when he came here in 1992, putting together a consortium with colleagues at other universities to bring the conference to the Midwest. It had been held in the United States only twice before, hosted by MIT and Harvard in 1938 and by Stanford in 1968.
?It placed us not only in the international and national limelight, but it placed us at center stage and that was very satisfying,? Aref said.
He served as the first chairman of the UI's Teaching Advancement Board when it was created in 1996 to improve teaching and recognize excellent teachers. Aref also served as interim chief information officer for the UI for one year.
He is a native of Alexandria, Egypt, and he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his doctorate in physics from Cornell University.
Before coming to the UI, Aref was on the faculty of the University of California at San Diego, where he received a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He was also chief scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.
His research is in the area of theoretical and computational fluid mechanics. He is an editor and former editor of several engineering journals, and he is affiliated with numerous professional organizations.
?He's done just an extraordinarily good job as head of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics,? Daniel said. ?He has provided excellent leadership and reinvigorated the department. We're really losing two people. We're losing both an outstanding department head as well as an outstanding professor who is a leading scholar, but I think this is an excellent opportunity for Hassan.?
Aref said he is sorry to be leaving the UI and the area. He plans to visit though. He and his wife will probably keep their rural home here, and his sons are both graduate students at the UI.