Indian American Subra Suresh Named President of Carnegie Mellon

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February 8, 2013 4:19 PM EST

Subra Suresh, 56, has resigned as head of the $7 billion National Science Foundation (NSF), to become the president of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), from July 1st.

The Mumbai-born Suresh was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 for a six-year term to the NSF, after serving as dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 2007 to 2010. He was on leave as the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT. He will become Carnegie Mellon University's 9th president, succeeding Jared Cohon, who is stepping down after 16 years at the helm.

"Subra has shown himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer - beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards," Obama said in a statement, accepting Suresh's resignation. 

"He has also done his part to make sure the American people benefit from advances in technology, and opened up more opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. We have been very fortunate to have Subra Suresh guiding the National Science Foundation for the last two years. I am grateful for his service."

In a statement to the NSF, Suresh wrote: "NSF is blessed with a marvelous cohort of highly talented and devoted staff, as well as hundreds of thousands of innovative grantees and investigators from every field of science and engineering. The extraordinary ability of the CMU faculty and students in bringing together cutting-edge research and education across multiple disciplines positions CMU uniquely to address national and global challenges."

In an interview to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Suresh said CMU "is a great academic institution, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to lead it."

He said Carnegie Mellon's accomplishments in a wide swath of fields, and how the school managed to leverage those successes into centers of excellence, made the institution particularly attractive to him.

"They have had huge impacts in certain areas of intellectual pursuit from engineering to computer science," he said. "They are (undertaking) world-leading activities in computer science, robotics, film, music, business, economics and the social sciences."

Suresh said he knows the campus from several visits over the years and from his chairmanship of a board of visitors at Carnegie Mellon about 12 years ago. He said he will listen to the campus he is about to lead and will get an opportunity to do so when he is introduced during a visit to Carnegie Mellon he expects to make over the next couple weeks.

"I feel it's very important to go on an extended listening tour," he told the Post-Gazette. "I intend to go talk to a large number of faculty and students and see what's on their minds and take some of their perceptions and perspectives."

When he takes office, he will inherit the pressures of an internationally known research university that competes with the likes of MIT and Stanford but has an endowment a fraction of what those schools and other top tier institutions possess.

He said public and private universities face myriad challenges from global competition for talent and the constant need to upgrade facilities to deciding how to be best positioned globally, while also being responsive to community needs close to home.

It won't be a cake walk, Suresh predicted. Then again, he added, neither is his current job or the one at MIT, said the report.

He described his management style as "non-confrontational," adding, "I'm perhaps quietly persistent. I try to hear every point of view listen to different voices and bring different experiences" to his decision-making." 

Since joining NSF, Suresh has established a number of new initiatives including INSPIRE (Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education); PEER (Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development [USAID]); SAVI (Science Across Virtual Institutes); the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative; GROW (Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide); and the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps). Suresh is a member of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a cabinet-level council comprising federal agency heads and cabinet secretaries.

He also co-chairs the NSTC Committee on Science and the Committee on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education, and he is a member of the cabinet-level National Ocean Council. He also chairs the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC), which helps set priorities for coordinating future arctic research across the federal government.

Suresh's wife, Mary, is the former director of public health for Wellesley, Mass. They have two daughters, Nina and Meera. Nina, a 2010 MIT graduate in brain and cognitive sciences, is a medical student at the University of Massachusetts. Meera, a 2012 Wesleyan University graduate with a double major in biology and French, is a post-baccalaureate fellow at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD. Suresh has a Bachelor's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras; a master's degree from Iowa State University; and a doctor of science degree from MIT.

After doing postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Suresh joined the Brown University engineering faculty in 1983. In 1989, he became a full professor. Four years later, he joined the MIT faculty as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. He also was head of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 2000 through 2006, Carnegie Mellon officials said.

Suresh has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, German National Academy of Sciences and Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, among others.He has been elected a fellow or honorary member of all the major materials research societies in the United States and India and in 2011 was honored with the Padma Shri. He is due in April to receive the Benjamin Franklin medal for his research work in mechanical engineering and materials science.

Subra is amongst some of the elite Indian Americans in academia, including Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School and Soumitra Dutta, dean of SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Yale. (Global 
India Newswire - AmericanBazaarOnline.com)

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