Effective Sept. 1, Tejal Desai ’94, an engineering researcher, will assume the position of dean of Brown’s School of Engineering, according to the current dean of engineering Lawrence Larson.
Desai is currently a professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and director of the Health Innovations Via Engineering Initiative. She has previously served in leadership roles at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Boston University, she told The Herald. In her past positions, Desai built departments as well as research and educational programs for undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition, Desai “has led a National Institutes of Health training grant for UCSF/UC Berkeley Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering” and “has served in recent years as a member of Brown’s biomedical engineering advisory board,” according to a University press release.
Over the course of her career, Desai has published nearly 250 research papers and has been cited over 22,000 times, according to the press release.
“I’ve had a lot of different experiences, but Brown was such a pivotal part of my growth as a student,” Desai said. “I feel like I can come in and both understand the culture of Brown but also think about ... the new places we can go.”
Desai said that once she becomes dean, she’s excited to focus on three main areas: building new research directions, expanding educational aspects and adding engineering faculty.
“There are really exciting partnerships that can be built with public health and the school of medicine, as well as in areas such as environmental” science, Desai said. She added that she’s excited to explore what “our undergraduates (are) seeing as they go through the engineering curriculum.”
Desai is also passionate about focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion within the department.
As a woman in engineering and a first-generation student in her undergraduate years, Desai often questioned if she belonged at Brown.
“That experience and feeling like maybe engineering wasn’t the right place (for me) has definitely informed how I think about the field,” Desai said.
Desai’s work in DEI has been recognized by the Association for Women in Science and UCSF, according to the release.
As the new dean of engineering, Desai said she wants to integrate DEI into the field. “If we’re going to solve any of these really complex societal problems, we have to have those diverse perspectives at the table,” Desai said.
Dan Bernards, a senior researcher at UCSF who has worked closely with Desai, said she is “a great leader” who is “very caring for all the students and postdocs (who) are in her lab, and does a great job of cultivating a very positive environment.”
Larson, who has been dean since 2011, will be on sabbatical for the 2022-23 academic year before returning to professorship and teaching the following year. He announced in September that he would step down at the end of the spring semester, The Herald previously reported.
Larson said he’s excited to see Desai assume his former role. “I’m a great believer in frequent and periodic refreshment of leadership in universities,” he said. “In the last year of my third term as dean, … I personally felt like it was time to bring in some new ideas, new perspectives and new energy into the role.”
Looking back on his time as dean, Larson said that one of his proudest achievements was the creation of the Engineering Research Center, a large extension of Barus and Holley. “Being able to get that building designed and built and have it (opened) early, … and then to see all of the amazing stuff that is going on in there every day now, that’s really been the most exciting and perhaps most rewarding part of my job,” Larson said. He added that he was also proud of hiring new faculty and installing a new student-designed sculpture, “Infinite Possibility.”
“One challenge for the new dean is going to be to keep Brown at the forefront of all these new areas that are emerging scientifically,” he said. “We’re competing for great faculty … and great students, … but all other great universities are trying to do the same thing at the same time.” Continuing to grow the department will be key, he added.
Larson said that Desai is “perfectly positioned” for this role because of her scientific talent and administrative leadership experience. “She’s one of our nation’s top bioengineering leaders.”