Suresh Babu has been appointed senior advisor for research and STEM workforce development initiatives at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a role that will focus on strategic investments in research and development and curricular innovations aimed at preparing a 21st-century STEM workforce. The position will serve UT’s Office of the Provost and Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development to advise on emerging national trends and opportunities to position UT as a thought leader in the national and global community.
Babu will begin transitioning immediately from his current role as interim education director of the UT–Oak Ridge Innovation Institute and director of the UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. He will retain his position as UT–ORNL Governor’s Chair Professor for Advanced Manufacturing, a joint appointment between UT’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering—part of the Tickle College of Engineering—and ORNL’s Manufacturing Science Division. He also holds a professorship in UT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
“I am extremely grateful to Dr. Babu for his steady leadership over some of our most prominent doctoral and research programs. Dr. Babu has an enthusiasm for discovery and a drive for delivering solutions that have long informed his work,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “I know he will bring that same passion and professionalism to his new role as we enter a vibrant era of research and collaboration at the University of Tennessee. As the state’s flagship land-grant university, UT will continue to push toward the goals laid out in our new strategic vision and invest the resources and talent needed to deliver on our commitment to innovation and workforce development.”
Babu said he is thankful to UT and ORNL faculty for mentoring and supporting the world-class students who are pursuing interdisciplinary research that is defining the future of Tennessee, the nation, and the world.
“I have been humbled and inspired by the passion and willingness of our students to learn, teach and share, and push the boundaries of science and technology,” he said. “I also thank all the students who have educated me on their research advances including advanced materials and manufacturing, computational biology, quantum information, and data sciences. In my new role, I look forward to continued collaboration with students and faculty.”
Babu will advise the provost and the vice chancellor for research on national strategic developments in STEM research and education and bring his knowledge of those developments to both offices. Additional focus areas include informing key partners of developments and opportunities for federal support of research and education programs, providing support for and mentoring individuals and teams of faculty preparing proposals in response to federal and industry funding opportunities; advising the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development on the best investments of strategic resources based on current university strengths and emergent federal priorities and needs; helping to develop interdisciplinary working groups to pursue funding in emerging areas; convening campus stakeholders to inform them of emergent needs and opportunities; serving as a university-wide champion and role model for interdisciplinary research and education; and leading or participating in working groups charged with the development of cross-campus research and innovation initiatives.
“On behalf of UT–ORII, I want to extend my congratulations and deepest gratitude to Suresh for the significant role he played in the creation of UT–ORII and his continued role in helping us create a stronger pipeline of STEM talent to meet industry, government, and academia’s emerging challenges and opportunities,” said Joan Bienvenue, executive director of the UT–Oak Ridge Innovation Institute. “I can’t wait to see the continued impact he has in this new role.”
Rack Named Interim Education Director of UT–ORII
Philip Rack, professor, associate department head, and Leonard G. Penland Chair in UT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has agreed to serve as UT–ORII’s interim education director, effective immediately. He joined UT in 2001. Rack’s focus will be on leading and growing UT–ORII’s three PhD programs—the Energy Science and Engineering program and the Data Science and Engineering program, both in the Bredesen Center, and the Genome Science and Technology program in UT’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Rack will be drawing on his 16 years as a UT–ORNL joint faculty member to strengthen and expand collaborations between the two institutions.
“I am honored and excited to follow in Dr. Babu’s footsteps. While my love for education is why I’m at UT, graduate education and mentoring have always been my passions,” he said. “I look forward to facilitating UT–ORII’s unique graduate education platform to provide great experiences for our students. This program has and will continue to have far-reaching workforce development impacts that are critical for our great state.”
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor John Zomchick said he is excited to work with both Babu and Rack and is delighted that they will serve in these vital leadership roles. “Their expertise, vision, and commitment to collaboration will greatly strengthen our efforts in research, interdisciplinary education, and STEM workforce development,” he said.
Vice Chancellor for Research Deborah Crawford echoed the provost’s excitement: “What a great start to 2022, to have Dr. Babu join us in this new position that makes explicit the very important link between our commitment to grow the size and impact of our research enterprise and our commitment to innovation in our academic programs,” she said. “And to have Dr. Rack assume the reins of our UT–ORII graduate programs—what an opportunity to grow and expand these multidisciplinary programs in support of our talented graduate students and our strategic partnership with Oak Ridge National Lab.”
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