President Laurie Leshin has announced the appointment of Bruce E. Bursten, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as WPI’s new provost, effective June 1.
The appointment comes after an intensive national recruitment process. Bursten will succeed Eric Overström, who has served as provost since 2011. Last summer Overström announced his intention to step down once a successor is on board.
As provost, Bursten will be responsible for the university’s academic and research programs. His primary charge will be to ensure continued excellence in the undergraduate curriculum, strengthen graduate studies and research, recruit, retain, and support outstanding faculty, and elevate the university’s stature and impact.
“Bruce Bursten brings decades of experience as an educator and researcher, and has an outstanding record as a dynamic and effective leader,” says Leshin. “He has shown the ability to work cohesively with faculty, students, and other key stakeholders, and he possesses the vision and energy required to help take this university to the next level of achievement. I am thrilled to welcome him to the WPI community. In Bruce we have clearly found a distinguished and gifted scientist to join our ranks.”
Bursten received a bachelor of science in chemistry, with honors, from the University of Chicago in 1974, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1978. He has built a strong reputation as a chemist, with more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, and is co-author of one of the leading textbooks in general chemistry. Before his current role at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, he had a career at Ohio State University, where he was named Distinguished University Professor and served as chair of the Department of Chemistry.
“Being invited to lead the academic enterprise at WPI is one of the very special opportunities in higher education,” Bursten said in a letter to the community. “What you do as faculty and staff to foster the intellectual growth of your students is remarkable and impressive. Your talented undergraduates enter WPI as smart, enthusiastic, and dedicated young women and men.
“… President Leshin has created a compelling vision in which Impact becomes the Third Tower of WPI, and I am certain we will have robust discussions about how to enhance the academic impact of WPI beyond its already impressive standing. As a newcomer, I will do a lot of learning and listening, and I will be asking you to participate actively in my education.”
Bursten has received numerous national and international honors for his academic accomplishments and has been elected to leadership roles in the American Chemical Society (ACS), which he served as president, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where he is the current chair of the Chemistry Section. An elected fellow of AAAS and ACS, he has received the Spiers Medal and Prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom and the Catalyst Award from the American Chemistry Council (a national award for chemistry teaching).
Strong academic credentials
Leshin says the role of provost requires strong academic credentials, but, further, it requires the demonstrated ability to bring people together to move WPI forward, whether faculty, students, staff, colleagues, or other members of our community. It requires the ability to advocate effectively for the faculty and students, to understand complex issues, and make tough choices.
“An accomplished educator, scientist, and leader by any measure, Bruce embodies the qualities that will help move WPI forward,” Leshin said in a letter to the WPI community. “… Because of his background and experience, the response of the campus community to his interviews, and through my own interactions with him, I am very confident that he possesses all the qualities needed to be successful at WPI, and to drive our academic programs to continue to rise in stature and impact.”
A Chicago native who was raised in Milwaukee, Wis., Bursten will be joined in Worcester by his partner, Carol Edelstein, a talent management strategist. His daughter, Julia, was recently appointed an assistant professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University.
Leshin thanked the nine-member Recruitment Committee, including co-chairs graduate dean Terri Camesano and interim vice president for research Bogdan Vernescu; HUA head Kristin Boudreau, professors Kathi Fisler, Mark Richman, and Steve Taylor; vice president and dean of academic and corporate eevelopment Stephen Flavin; graduate student Shaymus Hudson; and undergraduate student Kelsey Stergiou.
“I valued their counsel greatly in my decision process,” she says, “and they provided very thoughtful input on each of the three finalists.”