Ortiz named new grad dean

Prof will succeed Lerman, starting August 1

3127 ortiz
Christine Ortiz, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was recently appointed the new Dean of Graduate Education. She will assume her new position on August 1.
Elijah Mena—The Tech

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 announced the selection of Christine Ortiz, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, as the new Dean for Graduate Education on June 28. Ortiz is scheduled to assume her position on August 1.

The position was previously held by Steve R. Lerman ’72, who left to become Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs at George Washington University. Until Ortiz assumes her new position as Dean, the role of the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education will held by Senior Associate Dean Blanche E. Staton.

To help him make his decision to choose the next dean, Clay put together a six-member advisory group. The advisory group consisted of five professors (Martin L. Culpepper, Karen K. Gleason ’82, Kai von Fintel, John A. Ochsendorf, and Maria T. Zuber) as well as the President of the Graduate Student Council, Ulric J. Ferner G.

“The group was assembled to include a representative of the faculty and a graduate student leader familiar with issues related to the graduate student experience,” said Clay.

There were more than three-dozen nominations for the new position, all of which were tenured faculty at MIT. Clay talked or interviewed with roughly one dozen of the candidates. Two final candidates were interviewed by the advisory group.

The members of the Advisory Group said they are very pleased with the appointment of Ortiz.

“I think that Christine will be fantastic in this role. She has a lot of creative ideas for the Office [of Graduate Education] and she’ll bring a lot of energy,” said Ferner.

Ochsendorf was also happy with Ortiz’s appointment. “She is absolutely inspirational,” he said.

Ortiz told The Tech in an interview that the Dean for Graduate Education “can bring different departments together to discuss their programs and innovations. We can cross cultivate and get people talking together in a way that enhances the graduate experience.”

Ortiz mentioned that she foresees no immediate major changes to the graduate education program. “The first part will be learning and listening to the staff and the students, and then go from there,” she said. “Lerman made a good foundation and I’d like to continue a lot of the work that he did.”

In the long-term, however, Ortiz said that she’d like to evaluate and improve several aspects of graduate education, including lab-based courses, distance learning, and interdisciplinary programs. She recently led a revision of the graduate curriculum in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE). She summarized these changes in a section in the January/February MIT Faculty Newsletter report entitled, “Towards a Personalized Graduate Curriculum.”

Ortiz received her B.S. (1992) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her M.S. (1994) and Ph.D. (1997) from Cornell University. In 1999, she came to MIT as an assistant professor. Her research group studies the structure and nanomechanics of biological materials, and the Department of Defense has recognized her for her research in new body armor technology based on the natural armor of primitive fish.

She has been invited to give over 100 lectures all over the country. She has also written over 100 publications, and serves on editorial boards for several journals including Science. In her laboratory, she works with 16 students and postdoctoral associates. Despite her busy work schedule, Ortiz said she plans to continue doing research as dean.

Ortiz also teaches 3.052 “Nanomechanics of Materials and Biomaterials”, which she started in 2000. As a result of her appointment as dean, she said that she will scale back on teaching.

In addition to her research and teaching, Ortiz is active in the MIT Community. She has held positions on the MIT Institute Global Studies Council, Institute Committee on Graduate Programs, Materials Council, Committee on International Programs, and MIT150 Planning Committee.

She is also the founder and director of MISTI MIT-Israel, which offers MIT students internships in Israel. She created the program after noticing that many of her research collaborations were involved with groups in Israel. Since starting the program, she has sent several of her own students to Israel.

Additionally, Ortiz is a strong supporter for diversity-related issues in higher education. She hosts the MIT Diversity Web Portal and has participated in many diversity committees and panels at MIT and abroad.

“It’s important that MIT have an inclusive climate where all of its members have the opportunity to reach their goals,” Ortiz said.

The role of dean for Graduate Education is mainly responsible for organizing and distributing graduate fellowships, working on recruitment and inclusion of minority and women students, and for general advising and mentoring. In addition to these major objectives, the dean also works and collaborates with the Committee on Graduate Programs, the Graduate Student Life, and the Dean for Student Life.