One of the campaign’s priorities is to significantly increase the number of faculty chairs and professorships.Here are examples of three faculty positions, created by generous donors, that are making a difference.
Arun Shukla knows a great deal about stressful break-ups. But he’s not a psychologist. He’s the Simon Ostrach Professor of Mechanical Engineering and international leader in the field of fracture mechanics and the dynamic behavior of materials. Using a camera that shoots pictures at 200 million frames per second, he studies how materials like ceramics, metals, polymers and concrete break apart so they may be improved to withstand greater stresses. He has used the camera to evaluate such things as how bullets damage body armor and how concrete military bunkers resist penetration by bombs.
He is currently studying the performance of “durable hot structures” like ceramic tiles used on space vehicles for the U.S. Air Force and examining the ability of various materials to withstand bomb blasts for the U.S. Navy. In the latter project he is evaluating a “sandwich material”—a light-weight and inexpensive glass fiber composite on the outside and a soft layer of foam or balsa wood on the inside—for its potential replacement for steel in constructing ship’s hulls.
“In our experiments, the foam in the middle absorbs most of the energy from the blast and leaves the structural integrity of the composite material intact,” said Shukla, the chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and former interim dean of the College of Engineering.
The National Science Foundation is also supporting his efforts to study multi-functional nano- and micro-composite materials.
When Shukla was named the Simon Ostrach Professor of Mechanical Engineering in 2000, he felt tremendously honored, but also a little nervous. That’s because Ostrach is a respected scholar who was called “a superstar of modern aeronautics” by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for his lifetime contributions to NASA’s space program.
“His reputation is huge,” Shukla said, “so that put a lot of pressure on me to meet his standards. People know who he is, so when I say that I’m the Simon Ostrach Professor at URI, it gives me prestige. Even at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, people were asking me about him.“
Simon Ostrach ’44 retired as the director of the National Center for Microgravity Research. A member of URI’s Engineering Hall of Fame, he established the professorship in 2000 with a generous donation to the College of Engineering.
“Being associated with Si has given me a big advantage, but it’s also a challenge to live up to it,” added Shukla.
Shukla uses earnings from the professorship for travel expenses to visit research laboratories around the world, which indirectly benefits his research by developing relationships with other researchers and funding agencies. The earnings have also allowed him to expand his professional outreach activities—he was president of the Society for Experimental Mechanics in 2003, for instance—which brings visibility and prestige to the University.
In the six years since being appointed to the Simon Ostrach professorship, Shukla has received $3.2 million in research grants, written two books and 75 research papers, and graduated eight doctoral and 15 master’s degree students.
“I attribute a great deal of my productivity to the Simon Ostrach professorship,” he said. “It pushes me to do well.”
By Todd McLeish
Investing in Nursing’s Future
The College of Nursing and its dean, Dayle Joseph, have been at the forefront of statewide efforts to address the multi-faceted nursing crisis.
Those efforts received a major boost last spring when the E.J. and V.M. Routhier Foundation made a five-year, $500,000 gift that established a faculty position focused on primary care and nursing workforce issues. The foundation will provide $100,000 annually for five years to fund the Routhier Chair for Nursing Practice at URI. The chair will be funded beyond five years if the mutual goals of the University and foundation are met. The Rhode Island Foundation administers the Routhier Fund.
“This is a major investment by the Routhier Foundation that focuses on systemic challenges in health care,” said Paul Witham, associate vice president of development. “We are deeply grateful for the generosity of the Routhier Foundation for its commitment to the nursing chair and for recognizing our leadership role in nursing development.”
“Workforce issues are going to be very important for Rhode Island and its nurses,” Joseph said. “This position will help us deal with how to make the workplace better and how to prepare our nursing students so they can thrive in the clinical practice environment. We have been in a leadership role on these issues and we are prepared to do more.”
The gift from the Routhier Foundation was finalized around the time that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed hosted a meeting at URI with nursing and other health care leaders from around the state to address a variety of critical issues, including wages, overtime, retention in the workplace, nursing education, and competitive salaries for nursing professors.
A statewide study chaired by Joseph reported that Rhode Island has a current shortage of 2,000 nurses, and by 2020 the state could be short 8,000 to 11,000 nurses.
The Routhier Chair honors the late Edward and Virginia Routhier. Edward ran the Cormack-Routhier Insurance Agency and his wife, a graduate of Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing, spent 25 years as a registered nurse at the hospital.
Phyllis Nigris, a longtime friend of the couple, who has worked at the insurance agency for 46 years, said giving back was a priority of the couple. Nigris is now the president of the firm. Under Edward, the insurance agency was more like a family than a business, Nigris said.
Virginia, who rose to head nurse at the Rhode Island Hospital Potter Building before retiring in 1971, loved children. “This gift is very appropriate because Virginia was a pioneer in nursing,” Nigris said. “She was the first nurse in Rhode Island to administer intravenous treatments. She also believed in building the nursing community and served as president of the Rhode Island Hospital Nurses Alumni Association.
“Because their wealth was made here in Rhode Island, the Routhiers wanted to give back as a way to honor their friends and associates,” Nigris said.
She added that workforce development in nursing is a critical element of the gift, and a component focuses on ensuring that nurses educated in Rhode Island stay and work in the state’s hospitals and other health care agencies.
Nigris said she has been very impressed with the efforts of Dean Joseph in leading initiatives to address statewide nursing issues. “She is a very accomplished woman who gets things done.”
“This endowed chair gives us another faculty member who could continue the strong efforts our faculty have already begun in the Rhode Island community,” Joseph said.
By Dave Lavallee ’79, M.P.A.’87
New Dean is Accountable
Longtime Accounting Professor Mark M. Higgins has always tried to inspire his students with stories about alumni such as Alfred J. Verrecchia, president and CEO of Hasbro, Inc., and Richard J. Harrington, president and CEO of the Thomson Corp.
After having been named both dean of the College of Business Administration and the Alfred J. Verrecchia-Hasbro, Inc., Leadership Chair in Business, the 49-year-old Kingston resident said he is deeply honored.
“As an accountant, I am thrilled to have been selected for the leadership chair since Al holds his accounting degree from URI, as well as an M.B.A.,” said Higgins after his appointment on September 6. “In fact it was while Al was a student here that he had an internship at Hasbro that led to his great career.
“He and many others like him, such as Dick Harrington, who leads one of the largest information companies in the world, are great role models for our students, not only because of their business success, but also because of their service to the University and their communities.
“I have a passion for URI, and I believe strongly in its undergraduate mission and also in our outstanding graduate programs. This is the perfect mix,” said Higgins, who is entering his 19th year at URI.
Higgins succeeds Edward M. Mazze, who served as dean from June 1998 through this past summer. Mazze has joined the business faculty.
Higgins said that support from the $1.5 million Verrecchia-Hasbro gift, which established the chair, helps keep URI at the forefront of business education. “Part of the funding supports a dean’s discretionary fund, which allows me to support promising initiatives and programs and helps us respond quickly to changing trends.”
Associate dean for undergraduate programs for the past two years and director of the master’s program in accounting for 12 years, Higgins said the business college has an excellent faculty, a world-class business center in Ballentine Hall, and outstanding students that have allowed the college to raise standards.
“Last year we offered three honors classes, but this year we are offering six,” said Higgins, who worked at Ernst & Young in New York from 1981 to 1985. He left the firm as a tax manager. “Beginning with this freshman class, students who want to be admitted fully into the college must earn a 2.7 grade point average in their business core courses and a 2.5 overall. The previous standard was 2.4 for both categories.”
A certified public accountant, Higgins tells parents and business students that all business classes are offered in state-of-the-art Ballentine Hall, where class sizes range from 35 to 40. “At some of the big state universities some introductory accounting classes have 200 students. We are offering a private school education at public school prices,” said the new dean, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from the University of South Carolina and his doctorate from the University of Tennessee.
“Our accounting program is more than 50 years old, and we have achieved 100 percent job placement since the year 2000.”
Higgins said he looks forward to building on the exceptional legacy of Mazze and Business Professor Frank S. Budnick, who served as dean prior to Mazze’s arrival. “I would like to continue building on the outstanding foundation set by Ed and Frank. Frank was the catalyst behind the transformation of Ballentine Hall, and Ed brought it to the finish line.”
By Dave Lavallee ’79, M.P.A.’87