New engineering dean lays out plans for future

Katelyn Boone
Staff Writer

After leaving her position as Dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech, Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D started as the new dean of the VCU School of Engineering this spring. Boyan spoke with engineering students about her experience and how she hopes to build the VCU engineering program on Monday.

“The opportunity to help VCU meet the challenges that engineering education will face over the next decade was irresistible to my entrepreneurial spirit,” Boyan said. “There is a great momentum at VCU and I am very excited about the enthusiasm I see in our students and the collaborative atmosphere that permeates the campus.”

Boyan is a cell biologist, a biochemist, a physiologist, a biomedical engineer and successful business owner. This year, she was accepted as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering and was named the VCU School of Engineering’s new dean last fall.

During the “Know Your Leader” forum, students were able to interact with the new dean on her plans for the future.

Among those plans: doubling the number of faculty in the engineering department within the next five years by adding 49 new faculty members, according to the recent VCU School of Engineering Research Report.

Boyan said that she also wants to ensure that the School of Engineering is a community of mentors where undergraduates learn from not only faculty but also graduate students and their peers.

Boyan explained that in her lab, students must prove themselves to advance and that students learn about the shared responsibility of a research lab in an environment ideal for mentorship.

“I think that the research experience is critical because it’s right here at school this (mentoring) takes place … I think most students who already work in labs know that you are having fun, you become part of a team,” Boyan said.

The dean will announce an upcoming summer research program and how students can apply for it next week. The program funds graduate student projects that the dean deems “meritorious” along with 10 promising undergraduates. Under the supervision of Boyan, graduate students will continue to develop their project and undergraduates will be given a rationale stipend to work in the research labs.

Students also received insight into Boyan’s personal motivations and the journey that brought her to VCU.

“From the time that I was 10 years old, I knew that I wanted to cure arthritis. My mother is a rheumatoid arthritic … I started thinking about what you have to do to make a product,” Boyan said. She recalled reaching out to engineers in her area to catapult her product and eventually co-founded Osteobiologics, Inc., an orthopedic device company.

Afroditi V. Philippis, interim associate dean for undergraduate studies at the VCU School of Engineering, said that Boyan’s hiring is going to reenergize the engineering program.

“(Boyan) is really upbeat,” Philippis said. “I think students will find that (faculty) are going to expect a lot more of ourselves, but at the same time we are going to expect a lot more of (students) as well. That will be to everyone’s advantage.”

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