Any new dean has a learning curve to climb. For Nick
Jones, however, the climb may not be quite so steep. He's
been here before.
On the recommendation of President William R. Brody, the university's
board of trustees last week appointed Jones — who has
spent almost all of his career at Johns Hopkins — as
the fourth dean of the
Whiting School of
Engineering, effective Aug. 15.
Jones first arrived here in 1986 as a brand-new Ph.D.,
rising through the ranks from assistant professor to
professor and then chair of the Department of Civil
Engineering, a position he left in 2002.
"Having spent 16 years at Hopkins, it has been a big
part of my professional life," Jones said last week. "After
I left, I would come back to visit, and I realized even
more clearly what a special place this institution is."
Jones has spent the past two years as head of the
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the
nation's largest and most distinguished departments in
"I've really been fortunate in my career to have my
first 16 wonderful years at Hopkins and then to have had
this wonderful opportunity to lead a great department at
Illinois," he said. "I'm honored and excited to have the
invitation to return to Hopkins. There are not many places
I would leave Illinois for, but Johns Hopkins is certainly
one of them."
Brody said that Jones' time at Illinois would serve
him well in the Dean's Office.
"Nick brings to the deanship a rare combination of
intimate familiarity with Johns Hopkins and high-level
experience at a very different kind of institution," he
said. "His stellar record in both contexts shows him to be
a remarkably agile and creative leader. And I am
particularly encouraged by the role that collaboration and
interdepartmental bridge-building played in his approach to
his job at Illinois."
Jones said that part of the attraction of returning to
Homewood is the relatively small size of the school and the
university, and the tradition of collegiality and
discipline-hopping collaboration. While he was at the
Whiting School, for instance, he went far beyond his
primary research focus on wind engineering and long-span
bridges. Working at times with colleagues from the schools
of Public Health and Medicine, he also investigated
injuries caused by earthquakes and hurricanes and devised a
way to measure the impact on boxers of blows to the
"There's agility at Hopkins," he said, "to be able to
and willing to respond quickly not only to challenges but
more importantly to opportunities. There's a willingness to
innovate: to try something new and to move in different
Provost Steven Knapp said that Jones impressed the
search committee and others who met him during the search
with both his accomplishments and his view of the future of
engineering at Johns Hopkins.
"Nick's commitment to excellence in both research and
education was evident not only in his record of achievement
here but also in his activities as a university citizen,"
Knapp said. "He has a compelling vision of how the Whiting
School can assume a leadership role in both these equally
Jones intends to spend the first part of his tenure as
dean catching up on what has happened at Johns Hopkins in
the years since he left. In the longer term, the goal is to
continue the Whiting School along a path toward recognition
as one of the leading schools of engineering in the
"We have some key strengths in the school that we
should build on, with bioengineering being the most
obvious, but there are significant strengths in other areas
distributed through the other departments as well," he
said. "It's my intention as dean to take advantage of these
One important focus, Jones said, will be the
undergraduate experience. He wants to work with Dean Daniel
Weiss of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to create
a "Johns Hopkins signature" undergraduate engineering
education with a breadth unmatched anywhere.
"I think we can do more than make great engineers.
Hopkins makes great engineers now," Jones said. "One of the
greatest strengths the Whiting School has is the Krieger
School, and I see so many opportunities to work with Dan
Weiss and his team to develop an enhanced undergraduate
education for the future leaders of the engineering
Jones also wants to broaden collaborations with other
Johns Hopkins divisions, and with industry and business.
"The Baltimore-Washington area and the Middle Atlantic
region in general offer a wealth of opportunity for
engagement of industry with Whiting School programs," he
said. "We're doing a great deal already with education in
our part-time engineering programs, and we need to build on
that success ... expand beyond instruction and forge more
relationships and partnerships in research as well."
Jones, a native of New Zealand, graduated from the
University of Auckland in 1980. He came then to the United
States, where he earned master's and doctoral degrees from
Caltech in 1981 and 1986. At Johns Hopkins, he won major
teaching awards in 1987, 1991 and 2001. He was the 1988
Maryland Young Engineer of the Year; in 1989, the National
Science Foundation named him a presidential young
investigator. In the early 1990s, he was a member of the
university's Committee for the 21st Century and chaired its
study group on undergraduate education. He served for six
years on the Homewood Schools Academic Council.
Jones succeeds Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who stepped down
as dean in 2003 to assume her faculty position in
Engineering. Andrew Douglas has served as interim