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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 23, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 40
New provost named

Kristina Johnson on a visit to Garland Hall last week.

Kristina Johnson, dean of Engineering at Duke, to assume post Sept. 1

By Dennis O'Shea

Many of the issues facing Johns Hopkins and its new provost are obvious: the affordability of higher education. Support for basic research. Resources. The need for interdisciplinary teams to attack the thorniest problems.

Unfortunately, while the questions are obvious, the answers are not always quite so immediately apparent.

"I don't want to say too much right now. I know enough to know what I don't know, and it's a lot," Kristina M. Johnson said last week.

But Johnson is diving right in to learn more. Just a day after last week's announcement that she will become the university's 12th provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, she was in Baltimore to meet with staff and begin setting objectives. By Sept. 1 — an unusually quick turnaround for a high-level university appointment — Johnson intends to be on the job.

"Kristina Johnson is a passionate, visionary, highly accomplished teacher, scholar and academic administrator," President William R. Brody said.

"She has a keen appreciation for the extraordinarily important role of the research university in our society," Brody said. "She has a deeply felt commitment to our role as university administrators: providing an environment where students can flourish and faculty can go about the business of making this a better world."

Johnson said a provost's primary focus is academic excellence and faculty quality.

"Any great institution starts with the faculty," she said. "They attract the students. Along with chairs and deans, they do the great work of the university. My role is to look for opportunities to support and promote our outstanding faculty and staff.

"I'm looking forward to meeting the faculty as I have the university's extraordinary set of deans and directors," Johnson said. "I want to be someone who can help provide the resources that will allow them to do their jobs even better. I'm hoping to be a connector for deans and faculty looking for opportunities to further enhance their work."

Johnson, an electrical engineer with 40 patents and more than 140 published articles, has for the past eight years been the dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. She also is co-founder of several start-up companies. She will be the first woman to hold Johns Hopkins'second-ranking position.

"I'm very excited," she said. "To have the opportunity to serve a great university at a broader level is extremely appealing."

Johnson said that one of her strengths has been bringing together faculty experts from a wide range of disciplines to attack important problems from different angles. As a faculty member at the University of Colorado, Boulder, she involved engineers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists and even psychologists in working to make computers faster and better connected. As engineering dean at Duke, she helped to set up interdisciplinary efforts in photonics, bioengineering and biologically inspired materials, and energy and the environment.

"If you look at being competitive as a country in the 21st century, the problems are far more complex than in the past," Johnson said. Advice from economists and policy experts can help avoid scientific advances from getting ahead of society, she said. On the other hand, science and technology have important contributions to make in furthering the study of the arts and humanities.

"What better place to look at this kind of integration than Johns Hopkins?" Johnson said. "It's critical to the university as a whole that we have great liberal arts, great engineering and great professional schools."

Johnson, 50, graduated from Stanford University in 1981 with both bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering. She earned her doctorate at Stanford in 1984.

"It was obvious from her time as a graduate student here that she was going to be something special," said Donald Kennedy, president emeritus of Stanford. "She has simply been outstanding at every level, as a productive scholar and as a stunningly talented academic administrator as well. She and Johns Hopkins will be a wonderful combination."

Johnson was on the faculty at Colorado from 1985 to 1999, earning a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award and winning promotion to professor. From 1993 to 1997, she directed an NSF Engineering Research Center for Optoelectronic Computing Systems run jointly by Colorado and Colorado State.

Since 1999, when she became dean, Duke's Pratt School has undergone significant growth in both size and quality. Of 50 new faculty members recruited during her tenure, 14 have won early career "young investigator" awards. The undergraduate student body has grown 20 percent, and strong graduate programs have doubled in size.

Johnson oversaw planning, funding and construction of the 322,000-square-foot Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences. The school's research expenditures have tripled to $60 million, and the endowment has grown from $20 million to $200 million.

"Kristina Johnson has been a transformational dean of engineering at Duke and a lively contributor to the larger university community," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "She is a person of great positive energy that inspires those around her. We'll hate to see her go but are delighted to see her talents recognized with these new challenges and responsibilities."

Johnson is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Optical Society of America. In 2003, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. In 2004, she won the Achievement Award of the Society of Women Engineers.

She is best known in research circles for pioneering work in the field of "smart pixel arrays," which has applications in displays, pattern recognition and high resolution sensors, including cameras. Johnson succeeds Steven Knapp, the provost since 1996, who is leaving Johns Hopkins to become president of The George Washington University on Aug. 1. Donald M. Steinwachs, a professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, will serve as interim provost until Johnson's arrival on campus.


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