CMU names Suresh new president to succeed Cohon

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Carnegie Mellon University has named as its ninth president Subra Suresh, director of the National Science Foundation, to succeed president Jared Cohon.

The new president takes office July 1, according to a campus email from Ray Lane, chairman of the CMU board of trustees. The election was announced publicly a short time later.

Mr. Lane said the university's board of trustees approved the appointment unanimously.

Mr. Cohon is stepping down after 16 years.

"It's a great academic institution, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to lead it," Mr. Suresh, 56, said by phone from NSF headquarters in suburban Washington D.C. a few hours after today's announcement.

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."

Mr. 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 said. "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, Mr. Suresh predicted.

Then again, he added, neither is his current job or the one at MIT.

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."

Mr. Suresh was sworn in on Oct. 18, 2010 for a six-year term as the NSF's 13th director. He was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate earlier that year to lead the agency that funds science research and has a budget of roughly $7 billion, according to the NSF's web site.

Before coming to the National Science Foundation, Mr. Suresh was the Dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Lane said the new president has "earned a renowned reputation in education and research, garnering numerous awards and honors during his illustrious career as a scholar, educator and public servant."

"During my discussions with Dr. Suresh, it became clear that he is a strategic and visionary leader who will build upon the global reputation for innovation and excellence in education, research and entrepreneurship CMU has achieved during Dr. Cohon's 16-year tenure," Mr. Lane wrote in the email.

The trustees chairman's email distributed across the 11,000-student campus said Mr. Suresh "is committed to interdisciplinary collaboration as the best way to solve the world's complex problems."

Work across the disciplines, from engineering and computer science to theater and music, long has been an institutional attribute cited with pride over the years by Carnegie Mellon faculty and administrators.

"We are particularly pleased that he (Mr. Suresh) has recognized the outstanding achievements of our faculty, students and alumni -- many of whom are breaking new ground at the intersection of technology, business and the arts," Mr. Lane said.

The trustees chairman added that the new president told him he is committed to seeing that faculty and students "secure even more recognition in both rankings and support."

Mr. Suresh's wife, Mary, is the former director of public health for Wellesley, Mass., Mr. Lane told the campus. 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, the email to campus said.

Meera, a 2012 Wesleyan University graduate with a double major in biology and French, is a post-baccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

The president and his wife will be relocating to Pittsburgh over the summer, Mr. Lane said.

Mr. Suresh was born in Mumbai. Carnegie Mellon officials said in announcing the selection that Mr. Suresh has a bachelors of technology 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, Mr. Suresh joined the Brown University engineering faculty in 1983. In 1989, he became a full professor.

Four years later, he jointed 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.

Mr. 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 by the president of the Republic of India, according to Carnegie Mellon.

He is due in April to receive the Benjamin Franklin medal for his research work in mechanical engineering and materials science

Mr. Suresh was the pick of a 17-member presidential search committee that included a mix of trustees, faculty and alumni that was chaired by James Rohr, chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group and CMU life trustee.

"Dr. Suresh's ability to bring groups together to solve problems fits perfectly with Carnegie Mellon's collaborative and interdisciplinary approach," Mr. Rohr said. "Along with his global expertise, CMU will benefit from his work as a researcher, educator and entrepreneur."

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Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. First Published February 5, 2013 6:00 AM


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