Lawrence Larson, the dean of the School of Engineering, will step down from his role in June 2022, according to a Sept. 17 Today@Brown announcement. In his time as dean, Larson worked to expand the engineering school at Brown and modernize engineering research.
After the end his tenure as dean, Larson will remain at Brown as a researcher and professor, working in electrical engineering and wireless communications. During his time as dean, he worked on his personal research with the brain-computer interface, and will be returning to this research. He said he hopes that Brown’s Department of Engineering will maintain its interdisciplinary focus and continue to work with other departments on campus, such as neuroscience, public health and environmental science.
Brown’s engineering program is the oldest in the Ivy League and one of the oldest in the country, though its growth has been stagnant in the past 30 or 40 years, Larson told The Herald. He worked to expand Brown’s research into fields such as biomedical and environmental engineering, as well as growing engineering at Brown from a department into an entire school. Larson oversaw an increase in external research funding — engineering research now draws in $2.4 million annually. During his time as dean, the number of tenure-track engineering faculty also increased by 40%, he said.
“In general, what we want to make sure to do is to keep Brown on the cutting edge of science and technology,” Larson said, “My goal as dean was to move us down that path.”
One of Larson’s proudest achievements, he said, was the construction of the new Engineering Research Center, which opened in fall 2017.
“I’m really proud of this building because it will still be on the Brown campus 100 years from now, where students will be taking classes and doing research and faculty will be making amazing new discoveries,” Larson said.
One of Larson’s favorite parts of the job was working with students, whom he described as creative and down to earth.
Larson has also participated in projects with other departments, such as chemistry, biology, physics, computer science and entrepreneurship. He has worked closely with Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Danny Warshay ’87 and Postdoctoral Research Associate in Epidemiology Xiao Zang.
Larson “cares a lot about people, and is a really good fit for Brown because he cares about the students and faculty,” Warshay said. “Anytime I’m in a meeting with him, or see him in a larger venue, you can tell that his priority is what’s right for the students.”
Warshay worked with Larson on the planning process leading up to the launch of the Nelson Center. They have also worked together to expand the entrepreneurship curriculum at Brown, which has its origins in the School of Engineering.
Larson wanted the School of Engineering to support entrepreneurship financially and academically, he said, which led to collaborative efforts such as the Certificate of Entrepreneurship Program.
Although he could have asked that the Nelson Center be housed exclusively in the engineering department, Larson encouraged the center to collaborate with a variety of departments.
“To Larry’s credit, he understood that the concept of a Center for Entrepreneurship was going to be bigger and more interdisciplinary than just focused on tech and engineering,” Warshay said.
Professor and Chair of Physics Gang Xiao has also worked closely with Larson on joint projects in physics and engineering. He lauded Larson’s skills in executive management and his data-driven approach to problem solving.
Xiao said that Larson’s efforts have made Brown more attractive to those studying physical sciences. He also praised Larson’s ability to raise funds from private sectors and from external research.
“He is a pure engineer in the best sense. Engineering is about solving problems on time with high quality,” Xiao said, adding that he was particularly impressed by Larson’s work delivering the ERC ahead of time.
Larson also highlighted his enjoyment working alongside faculty colleagues. “For me, it was a feast of intellectual delight,” Larson said. “Almost on a daily basis, a faculty member would come to me with some great new invention, a new paper, and I would just get really excited.”
His departure from the role of dean, he believes, will be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of the department. “Refreshing academic leadership on a regular basis is an important thing for the health of the institution,” allowing the department to expand into different areas, he said.
Provost Richard Locke P’18 will lead a national search in the coming months to find a successor for Larson.