Indian American Tejal Desai named Brown School of Engineering dean

Tejal Desai
Tejal Desai; photo credit: www.brown.edu

Desai will lead the third oldest engineering program in the US and the oldest in the Ivy League.

Tejal Desai, an expert in applying micro- and nanoscale technologies to create new ways to deliver medicine to targeted sites in the human body, has been appointed the next dean of Brown University’s School of Engineering.

The appointment marks the return of Desai, who earned a bachelor’s degree with Brown’s Class of 1994, to her alma mater, Providence, Rhode Island- based university announced Wednesday.

An accomplished biomedical engineer and academic leader, Desai is currently is a professor at the University of California San Francisco. She is also a former longtime chair of UCSF’s Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences and inaugural director of its Health Innovations Via Engineering (HIVE) initiative.

Desai has held academic leadership positions at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Boston University and UCSF and has served in recent years as a member of Brown’s biomedical engineering advisory board.

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Brown President Christina H. Paxson and Provost Richard M. Locke announced Desai’s appointment in a Jan. 12, letter to the School of Engineering community.

“In addition to her groundbreaking research, Professor Desai has been a transformative leader of programs that develop and support young researchers, foster cross-disciplinary approaches to critical engineering challenges and support diversity, equity and inclusion in the engineering field,” Paxson and Locke wrote.

“As a Brown graduate, she keenly understands the innovative and collaborative character of engineering at Brown, and we look forward to working with her in her new role as dean.”

As dean of engineering, Desai will report directly to Locke and serve as a member of the Provost’s Senior Academic Deans committee and of the President’s Cabinet.

Her appointment follows a comprehensive search process led by a committee that included faculty, staff and administrators as well as student representatives from Brown’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

READ: Indian American Srikant Datar named new dean of Harvard Business School (October 12, 2020)

Desai will begin her tenure on Sept. 1, 2022, succeeding Lawrence Larson, who has served as the inaugural School of Engineering dean since 2011. As dean, Desai will lead the third oldest engineering program in the US and the oldest in the Ivy League.

Desai said she looks forward to leading a program that was formative in her own career as a researcher and educator.

“Brown engineers tend to be people with a very particular drive to improve the world around them,” she said. “Students come to Brown because they want to make a positive impact on society and they see engineering as a powerful way to do that.

“I am excited about coming back to Brown to create a vision of how the school as a whole can represent those ideals, and how it can continue to be a leader in this intersection between engineering and societal impact.”

“Having a diverse academic community enables us as engineers to bring our most creative and innovative ideas to the table,” Desai said. “It helps to ensure that we’re designing technologies that address needs across society and not just for those who can afford it or have frontline access.”

READ: Ashish Jha is new dean of Brown School of Public Health (September 15, 2020)

In joining Brown’s School of Engineering, Desai will lead an organization built to foster collaborative research and education as the school has no traditional departmental barriers, the university said.

After its elevation to a school in 2010, engineering at Brown has experienced dramatic growth with the addition of new faculty, surging research funding and the construction of a state-of-the-art, 80,000-square-foot research and teaching facility.

Desai’s responsibilities will include continuing to grow the school’s research enterprise with a focus on pressing societal challenges, as well as deepening research and teaching collaboration within the school and across campus.

A key priority will be continuing to diversify the school’s student body at all levels while recruiting and retaining more faculty from historically underrepresented groups, the university said.

At UCSF, Desai has been a key leader in developing a new Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, for which she served as chair from 2014 to 2021.

With a professor in residence appointment at the University of California Berkeley, she has led a National Institutes of Health training grant for the UCSF/UC Berkeley Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering since 2008.

She also serves as founding director for UCSF’s HIVE initiative, which is aimed at enhancing engineering education and research across the university.

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Before her arrival at UCSF, she helped to launch new undergraduate and graduate curricula, as well as new teaching and technology labs, at Boston University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In her research, Desai leads the Therapeutic Microtechnology and Nanotechnology Laboratory at UCSF. She uses micro- and nanoscale techniques to develop ways of targeting and delivering therapeutics to specific places in the body.

Along with her students and collaborators, she has developed material systems aimed at enhancing tissue regeneration, as well as platforms that work synergistically with human physiology to address autoimmune disorders and other conditions.

Desai has published nearly 250 academic research papers that have been cited collectively over 22,000 times. Her work has generated 27 US patents issued or pending.

Desai has earned recognition as one of MIT Technology Review’s Top 100 Young Innovators, one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10, and as the winner of the 2012 Paul R. Dawson Biotechnology Award from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

READ: Indian American professor Rangarajan Sundaram appointed as Dean of NYU’s business school (December 29, 2017)

She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors, as well as president of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

A staunch advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in engineering and academia, Desai’s work to break down barriers to equity and cultivate a climate of inclusion was recognized with the Judith Poole Award from the Association for Women in Science and the UCSF Chancellors Award for the Advancement of Women.

As president of AIMBE, Desai launched an anti-racism summit focusing on policy transformation in bioengineering, as well as an annual meeting to explore ways in which engineers can address racial and other disparities in health care.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Brown in 1994, Tejal Desai earned her PhD jointly from UCSF and UC Berkeley in 1998.

That same year, she became the first faculty hire in University of Illinois at Chicago’s newly formed Department of Bioengineering. She joined the Boston University faculty in 2002 before moving to UCSF in 2005.

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