Mechanical Engineering Head to Serve Term as NSF Director

Dr. Mario A. Rotea, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and holder of the Erik Jonsson Chair, recently began a term as director of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Education and Centers Division.

Rotea joined the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science as the department's inaugural leader in 2009. The department has quickly become one of the fastest-growing at the University, with mechanical engineering consistently one of the top 10 undergraduate majors. The department was created in 2008 with 10 students; enrollment this fall exceeds 900.

Rotea has recruited 26 faculty members, worked with faculty and the administration to establish the University’s doctoral program in mechanical engineering, and overseen the process for accreditation of the undergraduate program by the engineering board ABET.

“Mario has excelled at strategically growing an academic department and recruiting faculty members who are as skilled in teaching as conducting innovative research,” said Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and holder of both the Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering and Excellence in Education Chair. “His NSF appointment is a great compliment to his reputation and hard work, and I’m certain he will represent us well during his term serving the nation.”

The NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC) integrates basic research and education into strategic frameworks critical for addressing national challenges and promoting innovation. The division is responsible for investments in engineering research centers and networks, including the signature Engineering Research Centers (ERC), broadening participation, and innovation in partnership with academic, government and industry. EEC also leads the directorate’s engineering education research and engineering workforce development programs.

“My role at the NSF will be similar to my role in the Jonsson School – working with others to increase the impact of ECC’s programs and the efficiency of its operations,” said Rotea about his one-year term. “The programs that EEC supports in ERCs, engineering education, workforce development and broadening participation are on the radar screen of all institutions of higher learning. Directing EEC is both a phenomenal opportunity and a great challenge.”

A control engineer, Rotea has established at UT Dallas an NSF industry/university cooperative research center known as WindSTAR, the center for Wind Energy, Science, Technology and Research. WindSTAR was created in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts Lowell and industry partners.

Rotea’s career has included previous NSF term, as director of the Control Systems program, where he stimulated transformative research in control systems and co-authored interdisciplinary federal solicitations for research at the interface of engineering, computer science and mathematics. His career also includes time at United Technologies Research Center, Purdue University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Rotea will travel to UT Dallas during his tenure at the NSF to work with students and colleagues in WindSTAR. Dr. S.M. You, currently professor and associate department head, will become the acting department head while Rotea is at the NSF.