By Stefanie Sidortsova, published May 14, 2018 in Tech Today
Janet Callahan will become dean of Michigan Technological University’s College of Engineering on July 1, 2018.
Callahan comes to Michigan Tech from Boise State University, where she is chair and professor of the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. Callahan replaces retiring dean Wayne Pennington.
“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Callahan to the University,” says Jacqueline Huntoon, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Her record of scholarship, leadership and innovation makes her well suited to lead the College of Engineering as it continues to move forward.”
“Each dean selected in the history of a college has the opportunity to help shape that college’s future,” says Callahan. “I look forward to working with faculty, staff and the administration at Michigan Tech to assure an exceptional quality educational experience for students, and to further enhance the research trajectory of the college and university.”
Mining academic leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit
Callahan brings to the University more than 20 years’ experience in higher education. Her career began in 1992 at the Georgia Institute of Technology as an assistant and then associate professor of materials science and engineering. She was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 1996, through which her student, Eden Hunt, patented a new method for creating nanoparticles in sapphire and other oxides using reactive metals.
In 1998, Callahan co-founded a medical device start-up with new intellectual property and took a hiatus from teaching to serve for two years as the company’s director of research. Pulled by her interest in the future of engineering, she returned to her faculty position at Georgia Tech in 2001.
In 2004, Callahan joined Boise State University to help launch its new undergraduate program in materials science and engineering and was then appointed the founding associate dean of Boise State’s College of Engineering. Callahan remained in this position from 2005-2016 before serving the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering as chair.
Callahan played an integral role in securing $40 million in funding from Micron Technology to establish Boise State’s undergraduate and graduate programs in materials science and engineering and to support the Micron Center for Materials Research. She also brought in more than $2.5 million dollars in external funding for academically talented STEM majors and facilitated the establishment of the Boise Center for Materials Characterization.
Callahan holds a PhD in Materials Science, an MS in Metallurgy, and a BS in Chemical Engineering, all from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where she is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Engineers.
A foundation in materials
Callahan describes herself as an engineer at heart who remains fascinated by metallurgy and ore, collecting rocks rich in copper, iron and more from her outdoor excursions.
“It takes a massive amount of energy to extract metal out of rock,” Callahan explains. “When we don’t recycle metal, it creates a new cost to our world—to re-create metal from its metal oxide. Because of this, I’m passionate about explaining how important it is that we place each aluminum can, for example, into the right recycling stream.”
When she learned of Michigan Tech’s search for its next dean of engineering, her interest in materials science, combined with the strong national and international reputation of the University’s alumni, led her to apply for the position.
“I felt a visceral connection to the foundational roots of Michigan Tech and to the Keweenaw,” Callahan says. “The native copper here is not oxidized – it’s metal. This means it was cut out of the earth in slabs and shipped on rail. The copper found here supplied most of the copper needs of the country for decades.”
She noted that her interest in the leadership position was also based on Michigan Tech’s reputation in the 21st century as a vital supplier of talented engineers with an international reputation of creativity, work ethic and accomplishment.
Develop leaders, emphasize collaboration, foster excellence
While Callahan is a materials scientist, her research interests extend into STEM education, student retention, STEM teaching and learning, and self-efficacy. Her interest in student life and the non-academic side of higher education led her to live on campus in the Engineering Residential College as part of Boise State’s Faculty in Residence program. Between 2010 and 2012, Callahan lived with her family in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor, overlooking the Boise River.
At the time, the Engineering Residence College was a co-ed living-learning community, home to first-year engineering students from all engineering majors. Callahan met with the resident students every week and worked with a program assistant to develop student leadership. This resulted in community-focused projects, including an accessible ramp built for a community botanical garden, sage and bitterbrush planted in an area damaged by a wildfire, and a framed Habitat for Humanity house. Callahan remains in touch with the students.
Callahan, who will be the first woman to serve as dean of the College of Engineering, looks forward to developing strong connections with the students, staff and faculty at Michigan Tech, and advancing research that crosses disciplines. “Innovation happens when materials are discovered, new applications of existing materials are found, and theories from one field are applied to another,” she says. “Deans must foster interdisciplinary research and innovation as core principles and find ways to encourage faculty, staff and students to learn, be creative and collaborate.”
“What the students do here, what our talented faculty focus their efforts on, is vital to our nation,” she says. “We need to tell that story.”