Karen Kashmanian Oates, PhD, Named WPI's First Dean of Arts and Sciences

Currently a Deputy Director at the National Science Foundation and a Nationally Recognized Scientist, Science Educator, and Higher Education Leader, Oates is an Ideal Choice for Inaugural Deanship
May 11, 2010

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Karen Kashmanian Oates, PhD, currently deputy director of undergraduate education at the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Studies, has been named the university's first Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences. She will join WPI in August.

A biochemist, Oates earned her PhD at George Washington University, worked as a visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health's Oncology and Hematology Division, and began her academic and research career at George Mason University, before being called to a number of increasingly prominent leadership positions. As an associate dean at George Mason she was centrally involved in creating its New American College environment. Later, she was recruited to help found, as its inaugural provost, the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

"I am thrilled that we have recruited a scientist, educator, and leader of Karen Kashmanian Oates' broad experience, high achievement, and outstanding leadership and personal qualities to serve as our inaugural Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences," said WPI President Dennis Berkey. "And we are grateful to Board Chair Donald K. Peterson and his family for their generous gift of endowment support to create this new deanship."

Oates' early research, publications, and grant funding concerned various chemical and biological aspects of breast cancer cell mechanisms and the biologic therapy of cancer. She is also an award-winning teacher. More recent interests and publications have centered on women's health generally, faculty development, service learning, business-higher education partnerships, and K-12 science and mathematics education.

The Peterson Family Deanship of Arts and Sciences is one of three academic deanships being created at WPI. Mark Rice, PhD, currently Murata Dean of the F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business and former Graduate Dean at Babson College, was recently named the first dean of business; a search is in progress for the first Bernard Gordon Dean of Engineering.

"I am excited to be joining a university whose mission is so well aligned with my own ideals, and where students are able to put their knowledge to use to solve meaningful problems that are of consequence to the communities they serve," Oates said. "I look forward to working with the faculty and students here to build on the innovative work already under way in the arts and sciences."

At the NSF, Oates manages a budget of over $380 million and a staff of more than 35 who are charged with supporting innovative programs to strengthen undergraduate education and help revitalize American entrepreneurship and competitiveness. Previously, she was the founding provost for Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, established in 2001 to provide increased opportunities for students in central Pennsylvania to prepare for careers in science and engineering fields.

While at Harrisburg, Oates established the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement, which promotes the teaching of science through engagement with contemporary social issues, and helped secure NSF funds for Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities, which works to improve undergraduate STEM education by connecting learning to critical civic questions.

From 1985 to 1995, Oates was a faculty member at George Mason University, where she ultimately became associate dean of the new College of Integrated and Interdisciplinary Studies, which combines the liberal arts and the sciences in an innovative program that integrates interdisciplinary knowledge with lifelong learning through experiential, hands-on learning. There, she also led development of the first-year core learning community program and expanded the Center for Service and Leadership, establishing a Leadership Certificate Program.

As the inaugural arts and sciences dean at WPI, Oates will oversee seven academic departments--Biology and Biotechnology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science, Humanities and Arts, Mathematical Sciences, Physics, and Social Science and Policy Studies--as well as interdisciplinary programs in Environmental Science and Interactive Media & Game Development.

She will also have responsibility for helping promote and augment WPI's aggressive investment in the life sciences, which includes the Gateway Park development, the Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center, the George I. Alden Life Sciences and Bioengineering Educational Center, and the addition of more than 10 new tenure-track faculty members in life sciences fields over the past three years. Driven by these investments, enrollment in WPI's life sciences programs has grown 86 percent over the past four years.

WPI has also made a significant commitment to advancing STEM education from kindergarten through graduate school. Its K-12 Outreach Office offers one of the nation's most extensive arrays of programs for students and teachers from elementary to secondary school, and President Berkey is actively engaged in advancing the importance of STEM education to the nation's future, most recently as a member of the Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council.