Engineering Dean Tejal Desai: Inviting Brown Community Involvement

Members of the Brown Community,

As we approach the excitement of Commencement and Reunion Weekend, I’m reminded that my first academic year as dean of the School of Engineering is coming to a close. It has been a remarkable time, and I’m grateful for the support, input and engagement of the Brown community over the last several months. Our partnerships are sources of distinction and strength, and one of my goals as dean is to invite and encourage both broader and deeper involvement with the School of Engineering.

I am also incredibly proud of the work that is taking place by the School of Engineering faculty, students and staff. Together with collaborators across and beyond campus, they are demonstrating, every day, the centrality of engineering in addressing some of society’s greatest challenges. 

What follows is a summary of just a few of the highlights of work being done this year. As we seek to strengthen campuswide connections, it’s important that we share the School’s priorities and progress. In addition to our ongoing communication efforts, I plan to offer periodic updates on the research, education and community engagement taking place at the School, and invite your participation. I firmly believe that together, we can advance meaningful change - locally and globally.


Engineering is vital to Brown’s Operational Plan for Investing in Research. The School’s areas of focus range from promoting energy efficient innovations and environmental sustainability to developing technology to improve health and wellness.

We marked several milestones this semester. In collaboration with campus partners, including the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) and the Division of Biology and Medicine, this spring we celebrated the launch of two entities that draw on distinctive strengths to address grand challenges: the Initiative for Sustainable Energy (ISE), and the Institute for Biology, Engineering and Medicine (I-BEAM).

Under the leadership of Professor Nitin Padture, ISE will serve as a hub for driving technological advances in sustainable energy and preparing the next-generation of leaders in net-zero-carbon energy solutions. With a similar deliberate focus, I-BEAM engages engineering, biology and medicine to propel research to improve human health. Professor Vicki Colvin will direct the Institute, bringing a bench to bedside approach to ensure excellent basic and translational research leading to the design of new drugs and therapeutics, computational approaches for precision medicine, medical implants and devices.

Beyond these examples, exceptional research is taking place across the School. Since April 2022, research expenditures have increased by 10% and faculty have increased total grant proposals by nearly 20%, creating opportunities for essential growth and impact.  To continue to cultivate this culture of inquiry, we created – through the generosity of our supporters – a Research Incentive Fund (RIF), Bold Idea Grants for High Impact Research, Hazeltine Innovation Awards, and a Graduate student travel fund, all of which are designed to ignite and support inspiration.

Award Winning Scholars

We’re fortunate to have truly exceptional faculty at the School of Engineering, and this year, a number of faculty earned prestigious honors and awards, including being elected as fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Materials Research Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Students, too, are distinguishing themselves. Cel Welch, a Brown biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate, was named to the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstract Service Future Leaders program, which supports the growth of science leadership potential of early-career scientists. And Riley Renee Flores ’22.5 was honored with a best research presentation award at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers’ national convention for her presentation, “A Device for Multiplexed Processing of Glioblastoma Spheroids.”

Among the student-led innovations launched this past year was SBUDNIC – a low-cost satellite built using off-the-shelf components, which operated successfully in orbit, demonstrating a practical, low-cost method to cut down on space debris.

Student Experience

We take seriously the importance of offering excellent educational opportunities to prepare students for rewarding lives and careers in any range of fields. This means, first and foremost, ensuring that engineering is viewed by all students admitted to Brown as a welcome and accessible pathway.

We’re in the midst of several efforts to undergird this commitment, which includes a review of the core undergraduate curriculum. Under the leadership of a faculty committee, the year-long assessment is benefitting from faculty and student insights to consider options for strengthening the curriculum while reducing obstacles to entry and retaining characteristic Brown features, such as rigor, choice and an interdisciplinary approach. We expect recommendations by the end of the 2023 calendar year.

We have a new Design Engineering concentration that will begin in the fall. Originally conceived of by students, a group of faculty have come together to create a new concentration that integrates engineering, design and technology to prepare students to approach increasingly complex problems from multiple perspectives.

Engagement & Impact

As we enhance our excellence in research and education, we’re committed to playing a part in the University’s commitment to extend these resources to make a difference locally, nationally and beyond.

One natural area of focus is K-12 education, and among the series of engagements with area schools this past semester, we joined with the Department of Chemistry to host five Providence public schools for STEM day, offering hands-on research activities to students. We were also pleased to join with President Paxson and the Annenberg Institute to welcome local high school students for their own Day on College Hill, providing a glimpse of college life. 

At the state-level, we’re partnering with other colleges, universities and institutions in Rhode Island to explore creating an RI Tech Hub, which would harness our assets in innovation to spur economic activity and employment opportunities.

And I’ve been pleased to join with President Paxson and other women university and engineering school leaders across the country to advance the goals of the landmark CHIPS and Science Act. This included the recent open letter underscoring the need for higher education, government and industry to act in concert to grow and diversify the semiconductor workforce.

Vibrant Community

We know that to have sustained progress in research and discovery, community matters, and in particular, having opportunities to pose, test and challenge ideas and approaches, and to learn, question and collaborate across differences. That’s why the involvement of the broader Brown community is so important in our work.

We’re always looking for opportunities to partner and invite campus wide participation in events and activities. A new addition this semester is the first jointly hosted seminar series with the School of Public Health, which aims to foster cross-collaborative research opportunities among the faculty. We look forward to more of this in the semester and years ahead.

As we conclude the semester and prepare for the excitement of the upcoming weekend, I am grateful for the engagement and support of the extended Brown community – faculty, staff, students, alumni and philanthropic leaders – who are so vital to the School of Engineering’s work and contributions. Moving forward, I invite you to stay connected, to learn more about our programs, and to explore opportunities for increased collaboration.


Tejal Desai