Former ArtSci Dean Ralph Quatrano named dean of engineering school

| Editor in Chief

For the first time in recent history, the former dean of Arts & Sciences is the dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Biology professor Ralph Quatrano was named the dean of the School of Engineering on Friday afternoon.

Quatrano comes to the post as the immediate past dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences. He served as interim dean of Arts & Sciences from July 1, 2008, until June 30, 2009, when Gary Wihl took over the position.

Quatrano succeeds Salvatore Sutera, senior professor of biomedical engineering, who has served as the interim dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science since July 1, 2008. Quatrano will serve as dean designate starting March 1, 2010, serving a four-month transition period. His tenure will officially begin in July.

“Ralph Quatrano has been an outstanding academic leader at Washington University for over a decade,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said in a news release.

Although Quatrano has held no official positions in the engineering school, he said that biology and the field of engineering are closely intertwined and he hopes to build strong interdisciplinary relationships within the school.

“Engineering and the physical sciences are intimately related to the future of the life sciences,” Quatrano said in a University-issued news release. “It is going to be very important in the next decade that the biological and medical sciences integrate with engineering, and I feel that this position, looking back from engineering into the life sciences, will be exciting and challenging for me.”

The appointment comes two years after the former dean of the engineering school, Mary Sansalone, resigned from her post amid controversy. Throughout her less than two years as dean, Sansalone had come under fire for several controversial changes, including the merging of several departments and budget cuts in response to the school’s financial situation.

Tenured faculty within the school submitted a petition to Wrighton calling for Sansalone’s removal. She announced that she would step down in February 2008.

The search for a new permanent engineering dean started in December 2009 when Provost Edward Macias encouraged faculty members to submit applications and nominations for the position.

The applications were reviewed by the Advisory Committee on the Appointment of the Dean of Engineering, co-chaired by Macias; Joseph Ackerman, chair of the chemistry department; and Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert, associate professor of biomedical engineering. Other members of the committee include professors; department chairs; Evan Kharasch, interim vice chancellor for research; and Chris Kroeger, associate dean for engineering and applied science.

Senior Dan Brewster, president of EnCouncil—the student government for the engineering school—said that EnCouncil is looking forward to working with Quatrano.

“I think it’s great that we have a new dean and someone who has experience with Wash. U,” Brewster said. “We are all excited to have him. We haven’t heard of any changes that he will be implementing, but EnCouncil will look forward to working with him,” Brewster said.

Quatrano joined the University faculty in 1998 as the chair of the department of biology.

In his professional life, Quatrano’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind molecular and cellular mechanisms controlling seed development.

Quatrano earned his bachelor’s degree in botany with honors from Colgate University in 1962; his master’s degree in botany from Ohio University, Athens, in 1964; and his doctorate in biology from Yale University in 1968.

  • JKL

    ^ Pratim Biswas is Chair of EnergyEnvironmentalChemical….. Frank Yin is chair of BME.

  • JKL

    This it not directed as criticism of any of the previous comments. I, too, thought that “why on earth is the EN school choosing a biologist?” It does seem a little questionable at first.

    Especially after the debacle of the last EN dean (though, try as she might and as good as her intentions were), Wash U’s engineering school needs an effective administrator. The school has laid down a MASSIVE plan and vision for the new Engineering campus, faculty hiring plans, and research centers. The plan and vision is there — now we need someone to carry it out.

    The Department Chairs (ex: Pratim Biswas the chair of BME, etc) in the EN school have a significant degree of lateral responsibility and discretion in how their departments are run —- yet, amazingly, Wash U is very interdisciplinary and collaborative between departments. The EN school really needs one figure-head to coordinate and administer the activities of the departments and implement the vision and plan that has been laid down before Quatrano and even before Suetra was temporary dean.

    I think this is a great thing… Quatrano has elevated WU’s biology department to one of the top premiere programs in the country and was great as Art Sci dean. Deans, more than anything else, are motivators, visionairies, and implementers. I say look out for WU Engineering to be the “division to watch” at Wash U withinin the next decade.

  • bme05

    @ David Hall

    Good point: I didn’t realize that Dean Byrnes did not hold an engineering degree. However, he had served as a professor of engineering for 13 years prior to his appointment as dean, including 2 years as chair of the Dept of Systems Science and Mathematics at WashU. Additionally, Deans McKelvey, Sansalone, and Sutera all had extensive engineering experience prior to their appointments.

    My main point was less a criticism of Prof. Quatrano’s credentials and more a concern that the school is increasingly becoming an institute of biomedical science, rather than a place where multiple engineering disciplines can come together to solve real-world problems.

    The research performed in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering and that in the Dept of Biology may both involve biomolecules. However, it is often the case that those projects have two very different purposes, namely the development and optimization of new technology platforms and applications vs. the investigation of fundamental biological processes.

  • David Hall

    @ the previous two commenters:

    the previous dean didn’t have an engineering degree… pure math all the way through.

    Also, there’s a lot of research in departments outside of BME into life sciences applications of engineering. Looking at the department I came out of, Chemical Engineering, 1/3 of the faculty do research that involves molecular biology, but has no immediate application to medicine.

  • Pete Perplexed

    I echo bme05 regarding Prof. Quatrano’s abilities as an administrator and scientist, but a non-engineer as Dean of SEAS? You’ve got to be kidding. Unless, of course, all that matters is biomedical engineering. Don’t come looking to this alumnus for money.

  • bme05

    By all indications Prof. Quatrano seems like a great administrator and scientist, but is it too much to ask for someone with an engineering degree to run the engineering school? What message does this send to the non-BME engineering students (at least those that remain after all of the department consolidation)? Does Prof. Quatrano have any experience with fostering industry collaborations? Or supervising undergraduate design curricula? Or encouraging technology transfer? All of these are important parts of a successful engineering program, but not necessarily so for a Biology department.