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Katsouleas reflects on first year

After just one year as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, Tom Katsouleas has already started to leave his mark in programs, and in smiles.

Known for his friendly disposition and open office hours at Twinnie’s on Friday mornings, Katsouleas stepped into his position during an economic downturn and still pushed two major new initiatives—the 4+1 BSE/Masters Program and the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Summit.

“He has been very good at shaping priorities for the school,” President Richard Brodhead said. “And these are not innovations for innovations’ sake. He thinks about the version of education that will do people the most good and provide people with resources to solve the world’s challenges.”

Katsouleas was the vice provost for information services and a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California when he was selected in March 2008 to succeed Kristina Johnson, former dean of Pratt. Johnson left Duke to become provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University.

A year after being selected for the position, Pratt co-sponsored the grand challenges summit, which brought experts together to address problems facing national security, quality of life and a sustainable future.

Katsouleas said it was an opportunity for Duke to play a leadership role in shaping engineering professions.

“That’s what I think the future direction for Duke and Pratt will be,” Katsouleas said. “Engineering will be partners in energy, environment and other world issues. Possessing a unique combination of skill sets, not just in engineering, will make students leaders in this world.”

The summits will continue next year, with Duke and North Carolina State University hosting the first of the summit series in March.

In addition to the NAE summit series, Katsouleas is working on Grand Challenges Scholars program, “a combined curricular and extra-curricular program with five components that are designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century,” according to the NAE Grand Scholars Challenge Scholars Web site.

Katsouleas said Pratt, as a national model for the program, has gone from a strong engineering school to being the forefront of new education initiatives.

Senior Will Patrick, senior class president of the Engineering Student Government, said he appreciates the steps Katsouleas has taken that highlight the role of engineering in society.

Katsouleas has also introduced a new way for Pratt students to complete their degrees.

The 4+1 program allows students to complete their bachelor’s in science and their masters of engineering degrees in five years. This program has also been well accepted by students and faculty, and Tod Laursen, chair of the mechanical engineering and materials science department, said the idea will attract more masters students to Pratt.

“A lot of work in the marketplace now requires focus training in technical nature and entrepreneurship beyond what you get in a bachelor’s degree,” Laursen said. “This increases the opportunity for Duke to influence the way engineering is practiced.”

One of the things students and faculty particularly notice about Katsouleas is his transparent leadership and engagement with the school, said George Truskey, chair of the department of biomedical engineering.

“In my wildest dreams there is a vision of transforming universities, from what have traditionally been repositories of knowledge, to knowledge-creation engines,” Katsouleas said. “With this change, universities can become innovative engines for society.”

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