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Dean Abriola named Engineering Leader of the Year

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013

Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 08:01

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Zhuangchen Zhou / The Tufts Daily

Dean of the School of Engineering Linda Abriola was named Drexel University’s 2013 Engineering Leader of the Year last month in recognition of her contributions to the field of engineering.

Dean of the School of Engineering Linda Abriola was acknowledged for her contributions to the field of engineering last month when she became the first woman ever to receive Drexel University’s annual Engineering Leader of the Year award, picking up the honor for 2013.

After a committee reviewed alumni−nominated candidates for this year’s honor, Abriola was chosen for the award because of her unique feats in engineering, such as advising the White House and Congress about technological policy through the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and solving environmental problems through engineering, according to Drexel University’s College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hughes.

Drexel’s College of Engineering will honor Abriola, the 11th−ever recipient of the accolade, on Feb. 22 in a ceremony at its Philadelphia campus.

“We’re honored we have the opportunity to recognize her indispensable contributions to engineering,” Hughes told the Daily. “We want people to know of great leaders like Linda making a difference in the field of engineering.”

From Abriola’s focus on engineering education to her interest in the relationship between engineering and society, her scholarship at Tufts is well known and respected, according to Professor and Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering Kurt Pennell.

This vision has laid the foundation for Abriola to support diverse faculty hires, research initiatives and laboratory renovation efforts, all of which benefit the Tufts community as a whole, Pennell said.

“The award provides much−deserved recognition for the transformative leadership that Dean Abriola has provided the School of Engineering,” Pennell said. “It represents the coming of age of a generation of female engineers who initially broke through many of the gender barriers and biases.”

According to Abriola, she was the sole female in a department with all male students and professors as an undergraduate engineer at Drexel in the 1970s. She graduated with high honors. By contrast, this year, female students compose 36 percent of Tufts School of Engineering’s Class of 2016.

“What people noticed first was the fact that you were female,” Abriola said. “You were representing your entire gender when you did anything professionally, so there was a lot of pressure.”

Although the number of women engineers has increased since then, Abriola said there are still hurdles to gender equality. To overcome such disparities and eliminate the stereotype that engineers are male, she said more female leaders are needed in the field, though she said she does not consider herself a role model.

“The hardest thing for me was that I didn’t have any female professors and role models to look up to,” Abriola said. “We need to bring in enough women so that they don’t feel marginalized. They have to see women as role models and look to those women to see how to balance personal and professional goals.”

While most of her peers in college worked alone, Abriola said she preferred collaborative, interdisciplinary research with people from fields beyond her own area of computer modeling.

Outside of Tufts, Abriola said she uses this tactic in projects to reduce ground litter resources and contamination.

“My personal goal would be to see that much of the research that we’ve been doing to better handle contaminated sites becomes the common practice,” Abriola said. “There are opportunities for building upon it beyond what I’ve done.”

In 2010, Abriola was featured in “American Women of Science Since 1900,” an encyclopedia that lists 500 of the most influential female scientists in the U.S. The Association of Women Geoscientists also recognized Abriola in 1996 with an Outstanding Educator Award.

Other recipients of Drexel’s Engineering Leader of the Year award have included former President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Jim Albaugh and Engineers Without Borders Founder Bernard Amadei.

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