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WPI Adds a Record 23 New Full-time Educators and Researchers to its Faculty

Growing Demand for a WPI Education and an Ongoing Investment in the Life Sciences Drive the Need for University's Largest-ever Investment in New Faculty

December 4, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) welcomed 23 new educators and researchers to its full-time faculty ranks this fall, the largest incoming group of new faculty in its 144-year history. As evidenced by this year's arrival of WPI's largest-ever incoming class, the demand for a WPI education continues to grow. This growth, in addition to the university's commitment to academic excellence, and its continuing investment in the life sciences research and education, are among the reasons for recruiting such a sizable cadre of new full-time faculty. WPI, which has recruited 63 new full-time faculty over the past five years, also plans to fill 16 additional new positions for the 2010-11 academic year.

"Hailing from respected institutions of higher education, scientific research, and industry, these new faculty members bring with them outstanding research experience and, in some cases, significant external funding," said John Orr, WPI's provost and senior vice president. "As a national university, we compete with the largest and most prestigious research universities for faculty. It is extremely gratifying that we have been able to recruit such a talented and accomplished group of men and women to our faculty ranks.

"It is also significant that WPI made the commitment to pursue such a deep investment in new faculty in spite of a serious economic downturn," Orr said. "This is indicative not only of the university's strong financial position, but of the importance we place on attracting the most outstanding students and then assuring that they receive a world-class education. The investments we are making now will put the WPI in an even stronger position to thrive during the economic recovery."

WPI's fast-paced curriculum requires students to work in faculty-advised teams to apply their knowledge to solve important real-world problems. This innovative project-enriched approach involves a significant commitment of faculty time and hence a continuing investment in new professors as WPI grows. The university, whose student-faculty ratio is 14:1, ranks No. 19 among national universities with the highest proportion of classes under 20 students, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"WPI's success in balancing a steadfast commitment to undergraduate education with a significant engagement in world-class research; our continuing investment in outstanding facilities for learning, teaching and research; and our collaborative environment have helped us recruit some of the nation's top educators to our faculty," Orr said.

The WPI faculty boasts more than 40 fellows of top national and international societies, one member of the National Academy of Engineering, 14 current or former Fulbright Scholars, and 17 recipients of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the agency's most prestigious honor for young faculty. In 2007 and 2008, WPI faculty members were named Professor of the Year for Massachusetts by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. In 2008-09, proposals by WPI faculty garnered a record $13.7 million in sponsored awards for their research.

Below are bios of the WPI's 23 new full-time WPI faculty members:

Ryan Baker, assistant professor of social science and policy studies, conducts research on the interactions that take place between students and educational software, work that has led to software that adapts to individual differences. Before joining WPI, he completed fellowships at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Nottingham and served as technical director of the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center DataShop. He holds a ScB in computer science from Brown University and an MS and a PhD in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University.

Joseph Beck, assistant professor of computer science, has been a research scientist in WPI's Computer Science Department since 2007. His research focuses on educational data mining, a new discipline that develops techniques for analyzing large educational data sets to make discoveries that will improve teaching and learning. He established the first workshop in the field, and in 2008 was program co-chair (with Ryan Baker) of the first International Conference on Educational Data Mining. He holds a BS in mathematics, computer science and cognitive science from Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD in computer science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Kristin Boudreau, professor and head of the Department of Humanities and Arts, comes to WPI from the University of Georgia, where she had been a faculty member since 1997 and a professor of English since 2007. A scholar of American literature, she is the author of more than 20 journal publications and two published books, Sympathy in American Literature: American Sentiment from Jefferson to the Jameses (University Press of Florida, 2002) and The Spectacle of Death: Populist Literary Responses to American Capital Cases (Prometheus Books, 2006). She holds a BA in English from Cornell University and an MA and a PhD in English from the University of Rochester.

Sonia Chernova will join WPI in the fall of 2010 as assistant professor of robotics engineering after completing a postdoctoral appointment in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. Her research interests focus on the development of autonomous robots capable of operating alongside humans in everyday environments. This work spans the areas of artificial intelligence, applied machine learning, human-robot interaction, and adjustable autonomy. She holds a BS and a PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.

Ki H. Chon, professor and head of WPI's Department of Biomedical Engineering, will join the university in January from SUNY Stony Brook, where he has been a professor of biomedical engineering. With a research focus on biosignal processing and medical instrumentation, he has received more than $3 million in external awards, published more than 65 peer-reviewed journal articles, and earned seven patents for devices and methodologies for regenerating skin tissue, monitoring arrhythmia, and detecting autonomic system imbalance, among other discoveries. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut, an MS in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa, an MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Southern California.

James M. Cocola, assistant professor of humanities and arts, explores American literature and cultures, modern and contemporary poetries and poetics, multiethnic and transnational American Studies, and film, media, and visual studies in his research and teaching. He has published several articles and other scholarly works, as well as a collection of poetry titled Bright Days: First Poems. His scholarship has earned him a number of honors, including serving as resident scholar at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, N.M. He earned an AB in history and literature at Harvard College and a PhD in English at the University of Virginia.

Robert E. Dempski, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, joins WPI after six years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany. His research on characterizing enzymes to learn about their structural and dynamic characteristics has resulted in a number of journal publications and invited talks in Denmark, Germany, and Japan. He holds a BS in cell biology and biochemistry from Bucknell University and a PhD in chemistry from MIT.

N. Aaron Deskins, assistant professor of chemical engineering, completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., where his research focused on modeling photocatalytic reactions on TiO2. To date, his research has produced more than 20 refereed journal publications and conference presentations. He holds BS degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering from the University of Utah and PhD in chemical engineering from Purdue University.

Simon W. Evans, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, worked as an analytical engineer in the area of heat transfer for MTU Aero Engine Design Inc. and an aeronautical engineer for Titan Corporation (now L-3 Communications) before joining WPI. He earned his PhD in aerodynamics at Cambridge University in the UK, where his research on the use of advanced actuation concepts for control of the boundary layer on the suction surface of compressor blades was partially funded by an Overseas Research Students Scholarship awarded by the UK Secretary of State for Education and Skills. He also holds a BSc in aeronautical engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and an MS in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT.

Joshua D. Guttman, professor of computer science, joins WPI from MITRE Corporation, where he had been a member of the technical staff since 1984--most recently as senior principal scientist. At MITRE, he led research teams that brought in a steady stream of research funding for work focused on information security and formal methods. He has delivered more than 20 invited lectures, published 12 papers in refereed journals, and delivered more than 40 talks at refereed conferences. He holds an AB from Princeton University and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago.

Frank Hoy is the inaugural Beswick Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at WPI and director of the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation within the Department of Management. Hoy, an internationally known authority on entrepreneurship, spent 10 years at the University of Georgia, where he founded and directed the Center for Business and Economic Studies and served as director of the Georgia Small Business Development Center. He was named the inaugural Zwerner Professor at Georgia State University and later joined the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) as a professor of management and entrepreneurship and dean of the College of Business Administration. He has received more than $15 million in research awards and contracts and has authored or co-edited seven books. He holds a BBA from UTEP, an MBA in marketing from the University of North Texas, and a PhD in management from Texas A&M University.

Renata Konrad, assistant professor of management, conducts research on health systems engineering, patient flow optimization, and health informatics. She completed three graduate research assistantships, including one at the Indiana State Department of Health, where she constructed models for prioritizing essential healthcare services in the event of an influenza pandemic. With a $10,000 award from the Canadian Children of Chernobyl Fund, she analyzed health delivery in public hospitals in the Ukraine. She earned BASc and MASc degrees in industrial engineering at the University of Toronto and a PhD in industrial engineering at Purdue University.

Irina Mitrea, associate professor of mathematical sciences, joined WPI after five years as a faculty member at the University of Virginia. She previously held postdoctoral appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and Cornell University. Her research, which includes work in such areas as real and harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, and interval analysis, has been supported by a number of external awards, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the agency's most prestigious award for young faculty. She earned an MS in mathematics from the University of Bucharest, an MS in industrial mathematics from the Minnesota Center for Industrial Mathematics, and a PhD in mathematics from the University of Minnesota.

Brian Moriarty, professor of practice in Interactive Media & Game Development, is an award-winning game designer, creative director, and multimedia producer who was most recently creative director at Foundation 9/ImaginEngine in Framingham, Mass., the largest independent game developer in North America. Earlier, he co-founded and served as creative director at Mpath/HearMe, the Internet's first voice chat community, authored a bestselling title for Lucasfilm Games, and was senior game designer at Infocom, an early pioneer in interactive fiction games. He earned a BA in English at Southeastern Massachusetts University.

Stephen S. Nestinger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, earned a PhD in mechanical and aeronautical engineering at the University of California, Davis, where he conducted research on the design and control of intelligent mechatronic systems with funding from two Sandia National Laboratory/UC Davis Excellence in Engineering Graduate Fellowships, a Joseph Beggs Fellowship for Kinematics, and other scholarships and research awards. He has published more than 15 journal papers, book chapters, and peer-reviewed conference papers. At UC Davis, he also earned a BS and an MS in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

Lt. Col. Cynthia Provost, professor of aerospace studies, is an astronautical engineer and space operator with experience in space operations, intelligence, plans and programs, command and control, and protocol. She has served in a variety of Air Force and joint service positions around the world, most recently as director of staff for the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Her military decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Joint Service Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster. She holds a BS in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame and a masters of astronautical engineering and a masters of space operations from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Britton R. Snyder, professor of practice in Interactive Media & Game Development, is a digital artist specializing in high-resolution, three-dimensional models and textures for computer games. He began his career as an intern at Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, Calif., maker of the popular multiplayer game World of Warcraft, and has also worked as an artist for such companies as Sony, Liquid Entertainment, RockStar Boston, and THQ. In addition to holding a BFA from Berklee College of Music, he has studied figurative drawing and painting at Watts Atelier, the California Art Institute, and the New England Realist Art Center in Boston.

David I. Spanagel, assistant professor of humanities and arts, has been a visiting assistant professor in the history of science at WPI since 2005. Before joining the university, he had taught at Emerson College, Harvard University, MIT, and St. John Fisher College. His scholarship focuses on the history of the earth sciences and the environmental history of North America between 1780 and 1850. He is currently completing a book, Manifesting Destiny: American Natural History and the Empire State, which will be part of the Johns Hopkins University Press Introductory Studies in the History of Science series. Spanegel holds a BA in mathematics and American studies from Oberlin College, an MSEd from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in the history of science from Harvard.

Burt S. Tilley, associate professor of mathematical sciences, joins WPI with an extensive record as an educator and researcher, most recently as professor of mathematics at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. In previous positions, he was a faculty member at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, an NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Ecole Polytechnique in France, and a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University. Since 2007, he has also been an affiliate professor at WPI. His research on mathematical modeling of problems in scientific and engineering has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Schlumberger-Doll Research, and other organizations. He holds a BA in modern languages from the University of Lowell, a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Lowell, and a PhD in applied mathematics from Northwestern University.

Erkan Tuzel, assistant professor of physics, has held faculty posts at North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota. In his research, he is working to develop an understanding of fundamental mechanisms in biology and emerging nanoscale physics, especially in areas where there is the potential for significant medical and industrial applications. He has published more than 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He holds a BS in engineering physics and an MS in physics from Istanbul Technical University and a PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota.

Luis Vidali, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology, joins WPI with considerable research experience, having served as a scientist at New World Laboratories (Total ReCord Inc.) in Worcester and a research associate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His research, which recently garnered a major award from the National Science Foundation, focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying plant cell growth. He holds a BS in basic biomedical research from National Autonomous University of Mexico and a PhD in molecular and cellular biology from UMass Amherst.

Justin Tsung-Yi Wang, assistant professor of management, works in the areas of applied economics, applied microeconomics, corporate governance, and health economics. In 2007 he completed a summer internship at the Center for Financing, Access, and Cost Trends, part of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. He has twice been an invited participant in the National Bureau of Economic Research Summer Institute. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA from the University of San Francisco and a PhD in economics from Lehigh University.

Zheyang Wu, assistant professor of mathematical sciences, recently completed a Ph.D. in biostatistics at Yale University; his dissertation research involved approaches to high-dimensional model selection that facilitate genetic studies with high-throughput data. This work has resulted in a number of published papers and presentations. Wu, who also holds a BS in international trade from Chong Qing University in China, an MS in mathematics from the University of New Orleans, and an MPhil in epidemiology and Public Health from Yale, has been a referee for three journals.

Media Contact
Public Relations & Media
Boynton Hall
100 Institute Road
Worcester, MA 01609-2280
Phone: +1-508-831-5000
Michael Dorsey, Director of Research Communications, +1-508-831-5609,