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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 6, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 39
Engineering Names New Dean

In August, civil engineer Nick Jones will return to Johns Hopkins, where he has spent most of his professional life.

Nick Jones, former faculty member, to be fourth head of Whiting School

By Dennis O'Shea

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 those fields.

"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 head.

"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 directions."

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 critical areas."

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 country.

"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 strengths."

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 profession."

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 Mechanical Engineering. Andrew Douglas has served as interim dean.


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