Julio M. Ottino, dean of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, will step down as dean at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, Provost Kathleen Hagerty announced today.
“Julio Ottino has been a transformative leader for Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, raising the bar for excellence at all levels of the school,” Hagerty said. “Under his leadership, the McCormick School has become even more central to Northwestern’s interdisciplinary endeavors. Advancements in research and education have solidified Northwestern’s place among the very best engineering schools in the world.”
Ottino has led Northwestern Engineering since 2005, a period of substantial growth and international recognition.
“As a trustee and member of the McCormick Advisory Council, I have enjoyed a front-row seat to Julio’s tenure as dean,” said Peter Barris ’74, chair of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. “Julio has elevated the ambition of Northwestern’s efforts at the forefront of engineering education and research and has positioned the McCormick School of Engineering for lasting success and impact.”
“As dean, my goal was to change the culture of the McCormick School,” Ottino said. “Working with an outstanding team of faculty, staff and students, I am delighted that we have been able to do just that. Our school is more connected, innovative and collaborative than ever before. It has been a tremendous privilege to lead McCormick and see its transformation.”
Ottino will continue to serve as dean for the current academic year and will step down on Aug. 31, 2023. Following a leave, he will continue to serve as Robert R. McCormick Institute Professor and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The University will name a committee to launch a global search for Ottino’s successor soon, Hagerty said.
Ottino has overseen a dramatic expansion of engineering at Northwestern. Enrollments at all levels have grown significantly. At the undergraduate level, engineering majors now account for nearly a quarter of the student population and applications have more than quadrupled. Early in his tenure, Ottino revamped McCormick’s core first-year course, now called Design Thinking and Communication, and made it even more central to the Northwestern engineering experience. A new first-year advising program dramatically improved the experience for entering students, while enhanced efforts in career development and personal development positioned students for long-term success.
At the graduate level, master’s degree programs have surged during Ottino’s tenure, including the establishment of new programs in analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics and the joint MBAi program with the Kellogg School of Management. The joint MMM Program, also with Kellogg, was completely redesigned to focus on design innovation. The Ph.D. population also has grown substantially and is a leader in educating women and underrepresented minority students.
Under Ottino’s leadership, interdisciplinary initiatives flourished, including establishing the Segal Design Institute and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which offer courses to students across campus. Ottino helped to develop the signature NUvention courses, based in the Farley Center, which connect students from schools across campus in pursuit of new innovations in areas such as medicine, web media, energy and the arts. Formal and informal collaborations were established with every school at Northwestern.
Research funding at McCormick has more than doubled during Ottino’s tenure, and more than 15 interdisciplinary centers have been launched, including the Center for Synthetic Biology, the Center for Computer Science and Learning Sciences, the Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering, and the Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience. Commercial translation of research has also flourished, and McCormick now leads Northwestern in patent disclosures and faculty-led start-ups. Faculty recognition has increased, with more than double the number of McCormick faculty recognized as members of the National Academies.
Ottino spearheaded Northwestern’s transformative commitment to Computer Science, hiring more than 20 faculty lines and establishing a new cohort of teaching faculty and peer mentors, led by Chookaszian Family Professor Sara Sood, to scale high-touch teaching to rapidly growing enrollments. As a result, computer science course enrollments have increased more than five-fold over the past decade.
Throughout his tenure, Ottino pioneered the guiding philosophy of the McCormick School, “Whole-Brain Engineering,” integrating the elements of left-brain thinking — analysis, logic, synthesis and math — with the kind of right-brain thinking that fosters intuition, metaphorical thought and creative problem solving. Leveraging design and creating new initiatives with a diverse set of partners including the Block Museum of Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and departments across Northwestern, a wide range of initiatives provide McCormick students with the ability to augment their thinking and to explore the boundaries of disciplines. In recognition of the development of Whole-Brain Engineering, the National Academy of Engineering recognized Ottino with the 2017 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Engineering Education, the highest honor for engineering education.
“One of the secrets to our whole-brain approach was that we were able to leverage the excellence that exists in other areas of Northwestern and throughout the Chicago region,” Ottino said. “Developing and maintaining these partnerships has allowed our students to have a broader experience during their time at Northwestern.”
An internationally recognized researcher in complex systems and nonlinear dynamics and mixing, Ottino has maintained an active research group throughout his time as dean. He has supervised or co-supervised 60 Ph.D. students, including 23 during his tenure as dean. He has been recognized with numerous national and international awards, including honors from the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which named him among the “One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era.” Most recently, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. During his tenure he published two books, most recently “The Nexus: Augmented Thinking for a Complex World, The New Convergence of Art, Technology, and Science,” with collaborator Bruce Mau.