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New dean envisions bigger, better School of Engineering

February 21, 2000

Mark Miester

It was supposed to be a house-hunting trip, but the new dean of the School of Engineering also had other things in mind during his visit to New Orleans last month, like squeezing in a meeting with the school's executive committee.

"I want to hit the ground running," explains Nicholas J. Altiero. "I want to make sure I know the faculty, know the School of Engineering's strengths, know its weaknesses and know where people want to take it."

Altiero, chair of the department of materials science and mechanics at Michigan State University, was named the new dean of the School of Engineering on Dec. 17. The Ohio native, who will begin his new position June 1, replaces interim dean Michael Lynch. According to Altiero, it was Tulane's reputation for research that attracted his attention.

"If it had not been a Carnegie Research I school, I probably would not have been interested," Altiero says. "The fact that it was Research I was very attractive to me."

Altiero, 52, was first approached about the position by the executive search firm Korn/Ferry in August. As he began to do his homework, Altiero says the quality of the school's faculty and students impressed him, but one thing stuck out.

"The School of Engineering is too small for a Research I university," he says. "In order to compete with other Research I colleges in engineering, it ought to be bigger than it is. So I thought, if the university is committed to making engineering a larger player in the research role of the university, this might be a great opportunity to build a program at a very prestigious school."

When Altiero steps aboard in June, he'll bring with him a number of ambitious goals, among them increasing the number of the faculty by approximately 20 percent in the next three to five years, expanding the size of the undergraduate and graduate programs, and boosting external research funding by $5 million.

He hopes also to introduce a new practice-oriented master's of engineering degree in response to the growing number of professional engineers interested in additional, non-research-oriented instruction. Altiero joined the faculty of Michigan State University in 1974 as an assistant professor in the department of metallurgy, mechanics and materials science. He was promoted to associate professor in 1979 and full professor in 1986.

In 1990, he became associate dean for research and graduate studies in Michigan State's College of Engineering, a position he held until 1998, when he became chairman of the materials science and mechanics department. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Altiero earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1968. He attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master of science and engineering in aerospace engineering and a master of arts in mathematics.

In 1974, he earned his doctorate in aerospace engineering from UM. In 1981, Altiero was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, and in 1982 he was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Technology of North Rhine Westphalia in Germany. He received the State of Michigan Teaching Excellence Award in 1991 and Michigan State University Vice Provost's Lifelong Education Award in 1996. Altiero's hiring caps an unusually lengthy search process.

Michael Lynch, professor of mechanical engineering, has served as interim dean since August 1998, when former dean William Van Buskirk left Tulane to become provost of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In June 1999, following a seven-month search, the School of Engineering made an offer to a candidate, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement. The search was then reopened and new candidates solicited.

"An important point to make is that we didn't settle for anybody," says Rich Hart, professor of biomedical engineering and chair of the search committee. "Nick was not in the original pool of applicants. It took us longer than we would have liked, but I think the process worked. He's going to be a fabulous dean."

Altiero will be joined in New Orleans by his wife, Amy, and his daughter, Elizabeth, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

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