Release Date: May 22, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Liesl Folks is stepping down as dean of the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), effective July 26, Provost Charles F. Zukoski announced in a memo to the university community today.
Folks is leaving UB to become senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Arizona.
Since Folks joined UB in late 2012, SEAS has grown significantly. The school hired an additional 75 faculty members, and its student population grew by 2,700—a more than 50% increase. The school also launched two new departments, boosted faculty research expenditures, created numerous programs to promote diversity and inclusiveness, and enhanced relationships with alumni worldwide.
“An excellent dean, Liesl has advanced each of UB’s teaching, research, and engagement missions, leaving the school well-poised to build on this success for years to come,” Zukoski said.
He added: “Liesl led SEAS in creating a strategic plan that aligns the school’s vision and goals with UB’s institutional priorities, promotes a culture of research excellence and impact, and advances educational excellence and innovation. Externally, Liesl has enhanced alumni relations and improved school communications with all stakeholders.”
In a note to SEAS community members, Folks said: “It has been my privilege and an honor to work with each of you over the past six and a half years. We have accomplished a great deal in a short time, and it would not have been possible without your support and dedication.
“Thanks to our high-achieving faculty, we have increased our research expenditures by 35% and received a greatly increased number of awards for research impacts, energized by the large number of outstanding new hires we have made across the school. This is a testament to the truly outstanding scholarship taking place across SEAS,” she said.
She added: “Thanks for all of your passion, your support, and your great counsel! I leave our unfinished work in your trusted hands to propel SEAS onwards to ever greater impacts.”
A national leader and powerful advocate for diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, Folks led the creation of the school’s first diversity plan and the development of a culture of inclusive excellence.
To attract and retain more women in STEM fields, in partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Folks created the Women in Science and Engineering program. She also serves as principal investigator of the NAVIGATE Project, supported by the National Science Foundation.
Beyond UB, she helped spearhead an initiative through the American Society for Engineering Education in which more than 150 engineering deans committed to increasing diversity and inclusiveness within their schools. She also launched several initiatives to promote K-12 STEM education in Western New York.
“As a result of these efforts, under Liesl’s leadership, SEAS has increased the number of women faculty and students and more than doubled the number of underrepresented minority faculty and students,” Zukoski said.
Under her leadership, the school launched two new departments—the unique, interdisciplinary Department of Materials Design and Innovation, which was created in partnership with CAS, and the Department of Engineering Education, which aims to advance teaching and learning in engineering and applied science disciplines. The school also introduced new degree, dual-degree, and certificate programs in data sciences, clean energy, the internet of things, transportation, manufacturing engineering, blockchain technology and more.
Additionally, Folks built partnerships with other UB schools, encouraging SEAS faculty to participate in cross-disciplinary and university-wide initiatives to make innovative and impactful research, education and engagement contributions.
As a result, SEAS faculty provide leadership for UB RENEW, the UB Artificial Intelligence Institute, the Stephen Still Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics, the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences, the Institute of Bridge Engineering, and two of the Communities of Excellence—Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies and Global Health Equity.
A native of Australia, Folks earned a master’s in business administration from Cornell University after earning both a doctorate and a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Western Australia.
She is internationally recognized expert in nanotechnology and magnetism. Prior to joining UB, she spent 16 years in research and development in Silicon Valley, working at IBM Almaden Research Center, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and Western Digital.
In the Buffalo Niagara region, she has served on the board of directors for several organizations including CUBRC, the Cheektowaga-based research and development company, the Buffalo Museum of Science and the startup company Buffalo Automation Group.
Nationally, she served as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Magnetics Society and currently serves as chair of the congressionally mandated panel for the Quadrennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative by the National Academy of Sciences. In 2013, she received the American Vacuum Society’s Excellence in Leadership award, a national honor for mentoring science and engineering students.
In the coming weeks, Zukoski plans to appoint an interim dean and begin the process of searching for a permanent replacement for Folks.