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WPI Announces Faculty Promotions and Tenure Awards 2014

February 26, 2014

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) today announced that 15 full-time faculty members have been promoted in academic rank; in addition, three faculty members, including two of those who were promoted, have been granted tenure, and two full-time faculty members have been reappointed as professors of practice.

"On behalf of the WPI Board of Trustees, I offer my congratulations and gratitude to this distinguished group of scholars and educators," said Philip Ryan '65, WPI's interim president. "The university is proud of their significant accomplishments and the distinction they have brought to themselves and to our university. They are exemplars of the dual commitment to exceptional teaching and innovative and meaningful scholarship that we value so highly here at WPI."

Joseph Beck has been promoted to associate professor of computer science and awarded tenure. Beck, who is affiliated with WPI's Learning Sciences and Technologies Program, conducts research 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. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other organizations, he has conducted several studies that explore how computerized tutoring systems affect learning. In 2008 he established the first workshop in educational data mining and he was program co-chair of the first International Conference on Educational Data Mining. Beck, who joined the WPI faculty in 2009, 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.

Kristen Billiar has been promoted to full professor of biomedical engineering. Billiar joined the WPI faculty in 2002 after working as a staff engineer at Organogenesis Inc. As the director of WPI's Tissue Mechanics and Mechanobiology Laboratory, he studies how mechanical signals affect basic cell functions and influence such biological processes as tissue development, repair, and disease. In particular, he investigates the influence of the local mechanical environment (including the forces associated with tissue stretching and cell contraction) on the growth, development, and healing of soft connective tissues. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army, the Whittaker Foundation, and the American Heart Association. WPI has honored Billiar with the Romeo Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education and the Trustees' Award for Academic Advising. In 2009 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to work at the National University of Ireland, Galway, on research and education related to tissue engineering. More recently, he was elected a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), becoming the first biomedical engineering professor at WPI to receive this honor. Billiar earned a BS in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and an MS and PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

Marcel Blais has been promoted to associate teaching professor of mathematical sciences. Blais, who teaches in WPI's Financial Mathematics Professional Master’s Program, studies liquidity modeling in mathematical finance and recently began focusing his research on the study of leveraging and volatility derivatives. Blais has appeared in a number of media reports. For example, when WCVB-TV (Channel 5 in Boston) reporter Pam Cross needed to understand the chances of winning a Powerball drawing in November 2012, Blaise puts the daunting odds in perspective for her. He completed a BS in mathematics at Fairfield University (with minors in computer science, economics, and business management) and an MS and PhD in applied mathematics at Cornell University

Ulrike Brisson has been promoted to associate teaching professor of German. She joined the WPI faculty of the Department of Humanities and Arts in 2006 after holding a post as a lecturer in German at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; she had previously taught at the Goethe Institute in Boston and at Connecticut College. Her research interests include 19th century literature, literary translations, language pedagogy, and travel literature. She is the co-editor of the 2009 book Not So Innocent Abroad: The Politics of Travel and Travel Writing (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). She received a first Staatsexamen degree from the University of Hanover in Germany and an MA and a PhD in comparative literature from Pennsylvania State University.

Edward Clancy has been promoted to full professor of electrical and computer engineering. A leading expert in signal processing, modeling, and instrumentation, especially as applied to biomedical engineering, Clancy is currently engaged in research aimed at understanding the electrical activity of human skeletal muscles, work that is contributing to such applications as the control of powered prostheses, the diagnosis of neuromuscular diseases, and worker safety. In previous research, he studied the electrical activity of the heart and blood pressure in individuals who may be at risk for sudden cardiac death, explored the electrical activity of the brain to help in the proper delivery of anesthesia during surgery, and studied hand muscles during work tasks with the aim reducing injuries. He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. Clancy, who joined the WPI faculty in 2000, received a BS in electrical engineering from WPI in 1983 and also holds an MS and a PhD in electrical engineering from MIT. After receiving his doctorate, he spent nine years in industry research, including a post as senior engineer of radar systems at Raytheon Co.

Gregory Fischer, a member of the WPI faculty since 2008, has been promoted to associate professor of mechanical engineering and granted tenure. An affiliated faculty member in biomedical engineering and robotics engineering, Fischer conducts research in the areas of biomedical robotics and computer assisted surgery. As director of WPI's Automation and Interventional Medicine (AIM) Laboratory, he is a pioneer in the development of surgical robots that can function inside MRI scanners and be guided by live MRI imagery. In a current project, funded by a five-year, $3 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he is leading a team of researchers testing a new, minimally invasive approach to treating brain tumors that uses a novel, MRI-compatible robotic manipulator developed by the AIM Lab. Fischer's research has been funded by the NIH, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies, and has been conducted in collaboration with researchers at major medical institutions, including Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He received BS degrees in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MSE degrees in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering and a PhD in mechanical engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Kathryn Fisler has been promoted to full professor of computer science. The director of WPI's Cybersecurity Program, Fisler conducts research in the areas of software engineering, security policy analysis, and software development for computer science education. In her security research, she develops tools to help computer users understand the implications of their own security and privacy settings, and to help developers understand the security limitations of the systems they design. Her work in computer science education includes Bootstrap, a program that teaches algebraic and geometric concepts to teenagers, using computer programming and video game design. In 2002, two years after joining the WPI faculty, she won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the most prestigious NSF award for young faculty members, for a project titled "A Computational Infrastructure for Timing Diagrams in Computer-Aided Verification." She received WPI's Romeo L. Moruzzi Young Faculty Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education in 2004 for a novel course on programming language concepts that used mainstream applications such as TurboTax and animation programming to demonstrate how languages underlie the principles of good software development. She holds a BA in computer science and Asian studies from Williams College and an MS and a PhD in computer science from Indiana University.

Peter Hansen has been promoted to full professor of history in the Department of Humanities and Arts. With research interests in modern European and global history, international studies, imperial and postcolonial studies, and modernity, Hansen has been recognized as one of the world’s leading cultural historians of mountaineering. Having published more than 40 articles in journals, books, and reference works, he is the author of the 2013 book The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering After the Enlightenment (Harvard University Press), which received praise from scholars and critics at such publications as Nature, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Times Literary Supplement. Hansen has been a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, the Australian National University, and Harvard University, and is a past president of the Northeast Conference on British Studies. His work has reached wider audiences as a commentator and consultant for television programs on Mount Everest and the Matterhorn by the British Broadcasting Corporation. A member of the WPI faculty since 1992 he earned a BA in history at Carleton College and an MA and a PhD in history at Harvard University.

Neil Heffernan has been promoted to full professor of computer science. The co-director of WPI's Learning Science and Technologies Program, Heffernan conducts research on intelligent tutoring systems and educational data mining, among other areas. He has received widespread recognition, including articles in the New York Times and the Boston Globe and coverage on National Public Radio, for his development of a wb-based computerized tutoring system known as ASSISTments. Now used in hundreds of schools, ASSISTments is able to simultaneously tutor students and assess their progress, providing valuable real-time feedback to teachers, schools, and parents. Heffernan's research has been supported by more than $13 million in awards from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Naval Research, and other agencies, and ASSISTments has been cited in the National Educational Technology Plan and in a U.S. Department of Education recent report on big data. Heffernan received a BA in computer science and history from Amherst College and an MS and a PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. In 2010 he received an Alumni Achievement Award from Carnegie Mellon.

Huong Higgins has been promoted to full professor in the School of Business. A member of the WPI faculty since 1998, Higgins conducts research on global accounting practices, investigating how institutions in different counties shape the behavior of market participants. She is currently a co-principal investigator, with computer science professors Matthew Ward and Elke Rundensteiner, on a $515,000 National Science Foundation award for research aimed at developing visual analytics tools for detecting financial risk and fraud within real-time streaming data. The innovative research brings together the areas of accounting, databases, and pattern analysis. She earned BA degrees in English and French at the University of Saigon in Vietnam and an MPA and a PhD in accounting at Georgia State University.

Lorraine Higgins has been promoted to associate teaching professor of humanities and arts. Higgins, who teaches and studies rhetoric, is the director of WPI's Communication Across the Curriculum program and the WPI Writing Center. In addition to promoting writing through faculty development and consultation, she is an affiliated faculty member in the Writing and Rhetoric and Professional Writing programs. Her work on argumentation, collaborative writing, community literacy, and composition pedagogy has appeared in many professional journals and books, and she is the co-author of the 2000 book Learning to Rival: A Literate Practice for Intercultural Inquiry (Erlbaum). She earned a BA in professional writing, an MA in English, and a PhD in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. Before joining the WPI faculty, she taught composition and rhetorical theory at Carnegie Mellon, was an assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, and served as director of Pittsburgh's Community Literacy Center, where she started the ARGUE project to help diverse community groups deliberate about social problems through writing.

Germano Iannacchione has been promoted to full professor of physics. The head of WPI's Department of Physics since 2006, Iannacchione is an expert in the area of experimental soft condensed matter physics. As director of the Order-Disorder Phenomena Laboratory, he conducts research on order-disorder phenomena in soft condensed matter systems and phase transitions and critical phenomena, and directs experimental studies of liquid crystals, polymers, proteins, biomaterials, and complex composites. In 2001 he received a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the most prestigious NSF award for young faculty, for a project titled "Random Disorder in Phase Transitions of Complex Fluids." He has published more than 40 papers in leading peer-reviewed journals since he joined the WPI faculty in 1998. Iannacchione helped develop and is the director of WPI's Master of Science in Physics for Educators program, a professional development program for middle school, high school, and community college educators. He also helped establish the Physics Department's Annual Goddard Cup. Named for physicist Robert Goddard '08, inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket, the contest encourages young people to learn about physics by building and launching water-powered rockets. He holds a BS and an MS in physics from the University of Akron and a PhD in physics from Kent State University.

Stephen Kmiotek has been promoted from assistant teaching professor to professor of practice in chemical engineering. Kmiotek, who earned a BS, an MS, and a PhD in chemical engineering at WPI, spent more than 30 years in industry, focused on environmental health and safety, process safety management, air pollution engineering, and pollution prevention, before joining the WPI faculty full-time in 2012. He began his career at Cabot Corporation, where he was a fabrication manager and a chemical engineer. He was an engineering manager at Manchester Corporation, where he supervised a team of 12 engineers who designed and installed wastewater pretreatment and air pollution systems around the country. As manager of air engineering at HMM Associates/EARTH TECH, he directed a $1 million air permitting group. He was senior vice president, environmental health and safety services, at EnviroBusiness, where he supervised a diversified environmental health and safety consulting practice. Most recently, he managed all environmental, health, and safety activities for Rohm and Haas Electronic Material, which manufactures chemicals for the electronics and microelectronics industries.

Ingrid Matos-Nin has been promoted to associate teaching professor of Spanish in the Department of Humanities and Arts. Matos-Nin, who joined the WPI faculty in 2003, had previously taught at Assumption College, Clark University, Boston University, and Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico. In her scholarship on women’s studies and women in literature, she has conducted research on the role of women and the supernatural in literature from the Middle Ages to the colonial period in Hispanic America, seeking to explore the roots of our culture in the traditional portraiture of women in literature. She notes that women authors have often used the guise of the supernatural to highlight the discrepancies between society’s view of women and the reality of their everyday lives. She received a BA in political science from University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, a BA in Spanish language, a BS in secondary education, an MA in Hispanic studies from Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and a PhD in Hispanic language and literature from Boston University.

Brian Meacham, associate professor of fire protection engineering, has been awarded tenure. Meacham joined WPI as an associate professor in 2007 after serving as research director and principal risk and fire consultant at Arup Fire, a global engineering firm, where he had earned an international reputation for his work in performance-based design and building regulatory policy. At WPI, Meacham had led multiple efforts—funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies and organizations—that have explored fire risk and building regulatory policy, human behavior in fire and emergency evacuation, the post-earthquake fire performance of buildings, and fire hazards associated with green buildings. Meacham, who teaches in WPI's new Architectural Engineering Program, is active in several international organizations, particularly those involved with building codes. A fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, he has published numerous journal articles and is the author or editor of four books. Meacham earned a BS in electrical engineering and an MS in fire protection engineering at WPI and a PhD in risk and public policy at Clark University.

John McNeill has been promoted to full professor of electrical and computer engineering. McNeill spent nearly 10 years in the electronics industry before joining the WPI faculty in 1994, and he maintains close ties to industry as founding director of the New England Center for Analog and Mixed Signal Design, a university-industry collaboration that conducts research on cutting-edge mixed (analog + digital) integrated circuits and systems. His research areas include jitter (noise) in integrated circuit oscillators and analog-to-digital conversion. Supported by more than $750,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (including a CAREER Award, the NSF's most prestigious award for young faculty, in 1997), and significant additional funding from industry, his research has resulted in a number of patents, as well as best paper awards at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference in 2006 and the IEEE International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference in 2013. At WPI, McNeill has received the Joseph S. Satin Distinguished Fellowship in Electrical Engineering, the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Electrical Engineering Professor Award, the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize. He received a BA in engineering sciences from Dartmouth College, an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in electrical engineering from Boston University.

Brian Moriarty has been reappointed a professor of practice in Interactive Media & Game Development. An award-winning game designer, creative director, and multimedia producer, Moriarty had worked in game development and multimedia for more than 25 years before joining the WPI faculty in 2009. Early on, he was senior game designer at Infocom in Cambridge, Mass., a pioneer in interactive fiction games. He wrote three of Infocom's original prose games: Beyond Zork, Wishbringer (which received a Critics Choice Award from Family Computing), and Trinity (voted the Best Adventure/Fantasy of 1986 by Computer Entertainer). As a project leader for Lucasfilm Games, he authored the acclaimed Loom, a graphical adventure game that sold more than 500,000 copies and won numerous honors, including the MacWorld Adventure Game of the Year Award in 1990. In 1995 he co-founded Mpath/HearMe, the Internet's first voice chat community, which had more than 10 million users at its peak. From 2003 to 2006, he worked as producer/educator at the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center at Framingham State University, where he developed planetarium shows and presented daily astronomy programs to middle school students. As creative director at Foundation 9/ImaginEngin, he produced and/or designed several children's software titles, including three Parents' Choice award winners. He has given lectures on the design and philosophy of computer games around the world. Moriarty earned a BA in English at Southeastern Massachusetts University and an M Ed in English at Framingham State.

Britton Snyder has been reappointed a professor of practice in Interactive Media & Game Development. Before joining the WPI faculty in 2009, Snyder spent a decade as an artist in the field of video game development, specializing in high-resolution, three-dimensional models and textures for computer games. His contributions to a number of well-known titles include concept art, illustrations, 3D models, storyboards, animatics (animated storyboards), and cinematics (videos used within games). Early in his career, he worked on two blockbuster games for Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the popular multiplayer game World of Warcraft. He has also worked as an artist for Sony, Liquid Entertainment, RockStar Boston (formerly Mad Doc Software), THQ, Demiurge, and Seven45 Studios, a division of First Act, contributing to such games as Downhill Domination, Dragonshard, Empire Earth 2 expansion set, Empire Earth 3, WALL-E, Mass Effect for PC, de Blob, WordFu for the iPhone, and Rock Band: Greenday. He is the author and illustrator of The Superfun Adventures of Jax, a graphic novel released in 2011 by U.K. publisher Markosia. In addition to earning a BFA at Berklee College of Music, Snyder has studied figurative drawing and painting at Watts Atelier, the California Art Institute, and the New England Realist Art Center in Boston.