National Science Foundation director Subra Suresh to head Carnegie Mellon University

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The man named Tuesday as Carnegie Mellon University's next president says he is not one to manage by confrontation.

"I am perhaps quietly persistent," said Subra Suresh, 56, an engineer and scientist who since 2010 has been director of the National Science Foundation.

When he takes office July 1, Carnegie Mellon's ninth president 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.

Like other elite public and private universities, Carnegie Mellon faces myriad challenges from the global competition for talent and constant need to upgrade facilities to deciding how to be best positioned internationally, while being responsive to needs in its home community.

It won't be a cakewalk, Mr. Suresh predicted.

Then again, he added, neither is his current job or his previous one as engineering dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Suresh, a Mumbai, India, native who came to the United States at age 21, succeeds Jared Cohon, who in 2010 announced he would step down from Carnegie Mellon's presidency in June after a 16-year tenure.

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

He said he will talk to and listen to faculty and students during a visit to Carnegie Mellon later this month.

President Obama in a statement expressed gratitude for Mr. Suresh's service at NSF. "Subra has shown himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer -- beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards," the president said.

Ray Lane, chairman of the board of trustees, said Carnegie Mellon has evolved from a regional focus to a national one the last 25 years and hopes Mr. Suresh can take the school to the next level.

"We want to be known as a global university," he said. "That probably means campuses in India or China."

Work across the disciplines, from engineering and computer science to theater and music, long has been a point of pride at Carnegie Mellon. Mr. Lane said he wants more of that.

Asked what about Mr. Suresh impressed him most, Mr. Lane said: "His IQ. He'll sit and listen to a conversation and assemble a bunch of facts and he says, 'Here's what I think would work at Carnegie Mellon.'"

Early Tuesday morning, Mr. Cohon offered a positive take on the new leader, said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who spoke with Mr. Cohon about 7 a.m. He said Carnegie Mellon's president told him Mr. Suresh "will be a very committed and very effective partner."

Mr. Nordenberg praised Mr. Cohon and their partnership that over the years had benefited the schools and region.

Of Mr. Suresh, the chancellor said: "His accomplishments as a scientist and as an academic leader are nothing short of breathtaking. The ability of Carnegie Mellon to recruit him as the university's next president is a clear sign of the rise of Carnegie Mellon itself."

Mr. Suresh has a bachelor's 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 and joined MIT four years later.

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Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977.


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