Dean of Engineering to step down in spring

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Lawrence Larson, the dean of the School of Engineering, will step down in June 2022, according to a September 17 Today @ Brown announcement. During his tenure as dean, Larson worked on the expansion of Brown’s engineering school and the modernization of engineering research.

Following the end of his term as Dean, Larson will remain at Brown as a researcher and professor, working in electrical engineering and wireless communications. During his tenure as dean, he worked on his personal research with the brain-computer interface, and will come back to this research. He said he hopes Brown’s engineering department will maintain its interdisciplinary focus and continue to work with other departments on campus, such as neuroscience, public health, and environmental science.

Brown’s engineering program is the oldest in the Ivy League and one of the oldest in the country, although its growth has stalled for the past 30 or 40 years, Larson told the Herald. He worked to expand Brown’s research in areas such as biomedical and environmental engineering, as well as take Brown’s engineering from a department to an entire school. Larson oversaw an increase in external research funding – engineering research now attracts $ 2.4 million per year. During his tenure as dean, the number of tenure-track engineering professors also increased by 40%, he said.

“In general, what we want to make sure we do is keep Brown on the cutting edge of science and technology,” Larson said. “My goal as dean was to move us along this path.”

One of Larson’s proudest accomplishments, he said, was the construction of the new Engineering Research Center, which opened in the fall of 2017.

“I’m really proud of this building because it will still be on Brown’s campus 100 years from now, where students are taking classes and doing research, and where faculty will make incredible new discoveries,” said Larson.

One of the favorite parts of Larson’s job was working with students, whom he described as creative and down to earth.

Larson has also been involved in projects with other departments, such as chemistry, biology, physics, computer science and entrepreneurship. He worked closely with Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Executive Director Danny Warshay ’87 and Epidemiology Postdoctoral Research Associate Xiao Zang.

Larson “cares a lot about people and is a great fit for Brown because he cares about students and teachers,” Warshay said. “Anytime I’m in a meeting with him, or see him in a bigger room, you can tell his priority is what’s good for the students.”

Warshay worked with Larson on the planning process leading up to the launch of the Nelson Center. They also worked together to expand Brown’s entrepreneurship curriculum, which has its origins in the School of Engineering.

Larson wanted the School of Engineering to support entrepreneurship financially and academically, he said, which led to collaborative efforts such as the Entrepreneurship Certificate program.

Although he could have requested that the Nelson Center be housed exclusively in the engineering department, Larson encouraged the center to collaborate with a variety of departments.

“To Larry’s credit, he understood that the concept of a center for entrepreneurship was going to be bigger and more interdisciplinary than just focusing on technology and engineering,” Warshay said.

Physics professor and president Gang Xiao also worked closely with Larson on joint projects in physics and engineering. He praised Larson’s executive management skills and his data-driven approach to problem solving.

Xiao said Larson’s efforts have made Brown more attractive to those studying the physical sciences. He also praised Larson’s ability to raise funds from the private sector and external research.

“He’s a pure engineer in the best sense of the word. Engineering is about solving problems on time and with high quality, ”said Xiao, adding that he was particularly impressed with Larson’s work to deliver the ERC in advance.

Larson also highlighted his pleasure in working alongside fellow faculty members. “For me, it was a feast of intellectual delights,” Larson said. “Almost every day a faculty member would come to me with a great new invention, a new document, and I would get really excited.”

His departure from the role of dean, he believes, will be beneficial to the long-term viability of the department. “Regularly refreshing academic leadership is an important thing for the health of the institution,” allowing the department to expand into different areas, he said.

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Provost Richard Locke P’18 will conduct a nationwide search in the coming months to find a successor to Larson.

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