In July 2021, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison welcomed Howard Curler Distinguished Professor Eric Shusta as its new chair. He will be the second person to hold the Robert Byron Bird Department Chair (the first being the outgoing chair, Kreuz-Bascom Professor Regina Murphy).
Shusta spent his early academic career at UW-Madison, where he received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1994. He then returned to UW-Madison as an Assistant Professor in 2001. Over time, he’s watched the department continuously evolve and adapt to a changing and expanding field of study. As chair, he plans to help the department maintain its world-class standards and continue to push into new territory.
“The driving vision is to keep the CBE department among the top in the country,” he says. “Some of the ways we do that is by building on our momentum, continuing to hire and train a diverse and talented faculty, and continuing to put top graduate and undergraduate students into the workforce. Our students go on to be leaders of Fortune 500 companies, innovators, entrepreneurs and policy drivers.”
Another priority for Shusta and the department is improving its infrastructure and enlarging its capacity to teach students, especially as the College of Engineering moves forward with plans to grow in the near future. In particular, the department is focused on efforts to remodel and expand the high-use laboratory space in the basement of Engineering Hall; it currently hosts several sessions of the capstone Summer Lab program each year and is also where many required lab courses are taught.
As the department grows, Shusta says he also looks forward to helping foster a more diverse faculty that better reflects the student population. Over the fall 2021 semester, the department will welcome two new assistant professors, Styliani Avraamidou and Siddarth Krishna.
“Having diverse role models and mentors is something we’re really looking forward to as we expand our faculty,” he says.
Shusta gives most of the credit for the department’s progress to outgoing chair Murphy, who guided and helped the department adapt to a year of pandemic while also spearheading the expansion project that will likely come to fruition under Shusta. “She’s laid a foundation that makes it much easier for me to come into this position than it was a couple of years ago,” he says.
Over his two decades at UW-Madison, Shusta says he’s seen chemical and biological engineering change quite a bit. He hopes to help build a department adaptable enough to stay at the cutting edge of the discipline.
“As the industry has become more mature, chemical engineers are really applying those fundamental principles they learn to solve a variety of different problems, including those in materials science, biology, medicine, systems and high-level organization,” Shusta says. “The field and department have really evolved to adapt these fundamental principles that chemical engineers live by to a whole host of different problems, many of them with substantial societal impact.”
Those changes and innovations will likely accelerate, he says, and the mission of CBE will continue to be to train students and researchers and to enable the faculty members that will drive the next iteration of chemical and biological engineering.
Author: Jason Daley