Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, will be joining Virginia Tech as the inaugural vice president and executive director of its new Innovation Campus following the completion of his second term as dean on June 30.
A committee led by Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff is conducting an international search for a successor and a replacement is expected to be announced before Collins’ departure.
“This is an exciting endeavor for me and a natural evolution of the work I’ve been doing at Cornell Engineering in Ithaca and Cornell Tech in New York City,” said Collins, who will be charged with overseeing the development of the Innovation Campus, to be located in Alexandria, Virginia, from the ground up. The first academic buildings are scheduled to be completed in 2024, with some academic programs beginning earlier at a temporary location.
Collins is no stranger to launching a new campus. Among his achievements during a decade-long tenure as dean, Collins was a member of the core leadership team that won the Cornell Tech bid for Roosevelt Island in New York City. He has since served on the board of directors for the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, the joint venture between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell. Collins has also played an instrumental role in the hiring and promotion of faculty, and the launching of new degree programs at Cornell Tech.
“One of the things I appreciate the most about Lance is he wants to take on the very hard, very challenging things, and be very thoughtful about it,” said Greg Morrisett, the Jack and Rilla Neafsey Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech. “Lance played a critical role in forming the ideas behind Cornell Tech, along with [former dean] Dan Huttenlocher and others.”
Collins joined Cornell in 2002 as a faculty member specializing in the application of numerical simulations to turbulent processes. As the first African American director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and later as the first African American dean at Cornell University, Collins prioritized diversifying the college’s faculty and study body. As dean, he has more than doubled the proportion of students from underrepresented communities, from 8% to 19%, and increased the enrollment of undergraduate women from 33% to 50%, while keeping graduation rates and average GPA equal among genders.
For his diversity efforts, Collins received the inaugural Mosaic Medal of Distinction in 2017 and the 2018 Edward Bouchet Legacy Award.
“Many people are asking me, because I’m in my last year as dean, to name my biggest achievement,” Collins said. “It is this – a remarkable milestone I didn’t imagine in my entire lifetime – an undergraduate population that is equal numbers of men and women.”
Collins led one of the largest capital campaigns in the college’s history, and helped secure its two largest gifts, which established the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering and the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Collins also prioritized experiential learning within the college, launching the Engineering Leadership Program and developing new entrepreneurship initiatives, such as the Commercialization Fellowship and the Scale-Up and Prototyping Awards.
Collins has welcomed leadership roles outside the college as well. He co-chairs the Sustainability Cornell Council, charged with advancing sustainability programming across campus. As a thought leader, he published opinion editorials nationally on topics including U.S. energy policy, the importance of social science education and the rehabilitation of the L-Train Tunnel in New York City – for which his involvement was heralded by commuters.
“I’m looking forward to serving out my last semester at Cornell,” Collins said, “and although my time in Ithaca will soon end, I expect to discover the sentiment that many of our alumni have shared with me – namely, that Cornell will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.