Worcester, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has announced the appointment of two new deans in its undergraduate division. John A. Orr, professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been named dean of undergraduate studies to ensure the quality and effectiveness of all aspects of WPI's undergraduate program. Richard F. Vaz, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been named dean of WPI's award-winning Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD), through which students complete projects around the world that require them to use their knowledge of science and technology to address important social and cultural problems.
"The new appointments underscore the fact that WPI's traditional emphasis on undergraduate education remain as strong and vital as ever," said Provost and Senior Vice President Carol Simpson. "Dean Orr has a strong record in research, teaching, and academic administration. He will be actively involved in shaping and implementing a number of exciting new developments aimed at enriching the experience of our undergraduates, particularly our freshman and sophomore students."
Among the initiatives that John Orr will oversee as dean of undergraduate studies is working with the faculty to develop ways to enhance the first-year curriculum, in particular by bringing a more interdisciplinary approach to first-year courses and by extending to the first year some of the academic benefits of WPI's project-enriched approach to learning.
Orr joined the WPI faculty in 1977 as assistant professor of electrical engineering. He was named associate professor in 1981 and full professor in 1986. From 1988 to 2003, he served as head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. In 2001, he helped establish WPI's undergraduate project center in Silicon Valley, and plans to remain involved with that initiative. Orr earned BS and PhD degrees in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and an MS in electrical engineering at Stanford University. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
As IGSD dean, Richard Vaz will closely examine the university's Interactive Qualifying Project, a requirement for all undergraduates, who must apply the knowledge they have gained science, mathematics, and engineering to important societal issues faced by government agencies and other organizations. Vaz will also oversee WPI's Global Projects Program, which makes it possible for two-thirds of all WPI undergraduates to complete at least one of their required projects at more than 20 sites on five continents. In recent years, for example, student teams developed plans for a micro-hydroelectric system to provide power to a remote village in Thailand, helped villagers in Namibia deal with endemic flooding and erosion problems, and explored the use of composting to reduce landfill usage in Puerto Rico.
Vaz completed his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in electrical engineering at WPI and became an instructor in 1983. He was named assistant professor in 1990 and associate professor in 1994. He serves as a senior science fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and has been associate dean of IGSD for the past eight years. Vaz is co-director of WPI's undergraduate project centers in Limerick, Ireland, and Bangkok, Thailand, and will continue to advise student project teams as his schedule permits.
"Dean Vaz has an exceptional and highly regarded record of scholarship in the area of service learning and global education," Simpson said. "He brings a strong and persuasive voice that will raise the profile of our project-based curriculum."