Leadership and Impact

Leadership and Impact

Alumnus, department chair Kristi Kiick reflects on how engineering leaders help others.

What does it mean to be a leader in science and engineering? You might invent something new or discover a fundamental truth about the world—impressive feats—but that isn’t enough. Transformational leaders in science and engineering help other people.

“A leader in engineering needs to be curious, connected, and committed to identifying solutions to an entire range of challenges that face individuals and society,” says Kristi Kiick, AS89, chair of the University of Delaware Department of Biomedical Engineering and Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “Leaders in engineering also need to be compassionate, to understand the human aspect of the technical challenges that we are trying to address and of the educational programs that we are developing.”

At the 2016 inauguration of UD President Dennis Assanis, president-elect and UD alumnus Joe Biden spoke about the late Dr. Paul Dolan, a UD professor who encouraged Biden to run for office the first time even though his opponent was a well-liked incumbent.

“That made me believe,” said Biden. “That made me believe that I was worthy of doing it. Because if Paul Dolan thought I should do it—all you professors, you have such profound, profound influence.”

The message resonated with Kiick, a UD alumna, reminding her of the impact that individuals can have on others through their empathy and passion.

Top-notch materials research

Kiick is an internationally recognized inventor and an expert in the design and synthesis of biologically inspired and biologically produced materials, developing materials for treating wounds, arthroses, and surgically manipulated blood vessels. Her discoveries could ultimately help people suffering from a range of debilitating diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.

A Fellow of the American Chemical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Inventors, Kiick has published over 175 articles, book chapters, and patents, and has delivered over 200 invited and award lectures. She’s received many prestigious honors and serves on the advisory and editorial boards for multiple international journals and research organizations.

From 2011 to 2019, Kiick served as the deputy dean of the College of Engineering, working with stakeholders across the university and region to develop interdisciplinary graduate and research partnerships with various industries and national laboratories. She also focused efforts internally to strengthen the college’s intellectual and physical infrastructure.

As chair of UD’s biomedical engineering program, Kiick aims to connect faculty and their expertise to national and global initiatives in mobility, molecular therapeutics and platforms for understanding disease.

For a leader in engineering, a strong foundation in a technical discipline is essential, as is the ability to communicate across disciplines, says Kiick.  For example, the continued growth of data science and computation allows engineers to connect ever more readily to data and data sets that span both physical and social sciences. This, in turn, enables engineering approaches to inform public and health policies in impactful ways.

Advancing biomedical engineering

Kiick began her role as Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in December 2020. The department recently celebrated its tenth anniversary but is already a powerhouse with four NSF CAREER Award winners, indicating the early-career research excellence of the faculty, leadership and participation in several large research programs and institutes, and high-performing alumni.  For example, 95 percent of biomedical engineering alumni who received a bachelor’s degree from 2015 to 2019 are employed or pursuing higher education. They’re working in 49 states and 94 countries around the world.

Over the next five years, Kiick aims to connect faculty and their expertise to national and global initiatives in mobility, molecular therapeutics, and platforms for understanding disease. She wants to expand the reach of the department’s educational and scholarly activities into underserved communities and continue to develop leaders, from all levels of the UD biomedical engineering community, to contribute to these areas.

“We have outstanding students, educators, and scholars, with interests from the molecular to the human scale, and these are exciting times to be contributing to human health,” she says.

Kiick, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UD in 1989 before completing graduate degrees at the University of Georgia and University of Massachusetts Amherst, grew up in an era when science was becoming increasingly visible to the public. She has admired many scientists who have found new ways to address old challenges. Her inspiration for leadership began with her father, who was a middle-school science teacher and a high-school wrestling and track coach.

“He was always connected to our community, and seeing the sorts of activities he made happen, and the fun he would create, was foundational in ways I didn’t understand at the time,” says Kiick.  “Since then, many others in my life, education and career have helped me learn new skills and find ways to channel my dedication to people, science and education.  And for me, as for our President Joe Biden, a good many of them were and are right here at UD.”

Article by Julie Stewart

Kelly, Thompson Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Kelly, Thompson Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Trustee, dean honored by prestigious engineering organization

Two University of Delaware alumni and current leaders — Terri L. Kelly, vice chair of the UD Board of Trustees, and Levi T. Thompson, dean of the College of Engineering — have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Election to NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.

Thompson, who is also the Elizabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering, was selected “for advances in catalysis and energy storage, entrepreneurship and academic leadership.”

Kelly, the retired president and CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, was selected “for leadership in product development and commercialization by advancing management practices that foster innovation.”

“This is a tremendous honor for two distinguished members of the UD family,” said UD President Dennis Assanis, a member of NAE since 2008. “The election of Levi and Terri demonstrates, once again, the power of a UD education to transform lives and put students on the path to success. While their NAE membership recognizes their contributions to engineering, entrepreneurship and innovation, we are so grateful for their ongoing contributions to the University as leaders in our community.”

Thompson and Kelly are among 106 new members and 23 international members inducted into NAE this year. There are now 2,355 U.S. members and 298 international members of NAE. Thompson, Kelly and other members of the newly elected class will be formally inducted during the NAE’s annual meeting on Oct. 3, 2021.

Thompson and Kelly are among numerous UD alumni in the NAE. Thompson received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UD in 1981; Kelly received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1983. The organization’s president, John L. Anderson, is a UD alumnus. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UD in 1967.

Thompson joins seven other UD faculty members and emeritus faculty as members of the NAE: Terry Papoutsakis, Unidel Eugene du Pont Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Norm Wagner, Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical Engineering (2015); Babatunde Ogunnaike, William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering (2012); UD President Dennis Assanis, who is also professor of mechanical engineering (2008); David L. Mills, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering (2008); Dominic Di Toro, Edward C. Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (2005); and Stanley Sandler, H.B. du Pont Chair Emeritus of Chemical Engineering (1996).

“My journey as an engineer started right here at the University of Delaware, where I learned and honed skills that launched my academic career and whetted my appetite for innovation,” said Thompson. “After spending 30 years at the University of Michigan, then returning as dean of the UD College of Engineering, I am honored and humbled to join my colleagues here at UD and back at UM as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. I will continue to work to educate and inspire the next generation of engineers at Delaware and beyond so that they can make a difference in this world. I am proud to be recognized by the NAE alongside Terri Kelly, a fellow UD-educated engineer who has improved countless lives through engineering. This is a great year for UD Engineering.”

Kelly said of her NAE election, “Throughout my education and my career, I have known that UD offers an exemplary education in engineering, as well as many other fields, which is why I continue to be engaged with the University. To be recognized by the NAE is humbling, and I consider it a testament to the strong education I received from UD.”

Other UD alumni in the National Academy of Engineering include Rakesh Agrawal, Class of 1977; Kurt B. Akeley, Class of 1980; Arup K. Chakraborty, Class of 1989; Morton Collins, Class of 1958; Arthur J. Coury, Class of 1962; ; Thomas F. Degnan Jr., Class of 1977; Richard E. Emmert, Class of 1952; Arthur L. Goldstein, Class of 1959; Teh C. Ho, Class of 1977; Rakesh K. Jain, Class of 1976;  Isaac C. Sanchez, Class of 1969; and David F. Welch, Class of 1981.

About Levi T. Thompson

Thompson rejoined UD as the dean of the College of Engineering in 2018. He was previously the Richard E. Balzhiser Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of both the Hydrogen Energy Technology Laboratory and the Michigan-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. Since returning, he has led the college in a strategic planning process focused on growth for impact and establishing Delaware as the destination for people who want to improve the world through engineering. It is starting to pay dividends with improvements in diversity, increases in research expenditures and the launch of several major research centers.

Thompson, a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, is internationally recognized for his research on nanoscale materials for catalytic and energy storage applications and is an award-winning educator.

He co-founded a start-up called T/J Technologies, a developer of nanostructured materials for lithium ion batteries, and helped to spin off a second start-up, Inmatech Inc., from the University of Michigan to commercialize low cost, high-energy density supercapacitors.

Thompson was on the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Board of Directors from 2014 to 2016 and was a consulting editor for the AIChE Journal. He also served on the National Academy’s Chemical Sciences Roundtable, National Science Foundation Engineering Directorate External Advisory Committee and Standing Committee on Chemical Demilitarization, Board on Army Science and Technology. He currently serves on the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC), Editorial Committee for Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer, and several college and departmental advisory committees.

After graduating from UD in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Thompson went to the University of Michigan, where he earned two master’s degrees, in chemical engineering and nuclear engineering, and a doctoral degree in chemical engineering.

About Terri L. Kelly

Kelly is the retired president and CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, a multi-billion dollar enterprise that employs more than 8,000 associates in 45 plants around the world.

She serves as vice chair of UD’s Board of Trustees, which she joined in 2009, and is a trustee of the Unidel Foundation. In 2014, she was honored with the UD Alumni Wall of Fame award. She also serves on the UD College of Engineering External Advisory Council.

Kelly joined Gore as a process engineer in 1983 after graduating from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In 1998, Kelly became part of the leadership team for the global Fabrics Division. In this role, she helped establish a fabrics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China — Gore’s first fabrics plant in Asia. While in the Fabrics Division, Kelly also served on the Enterprise Operations Committee working closely with the CEO and other leaders to help guide the strategic direction of the company. Kelly’s leadership abilities have driven her success in a company known for its non-hierarchical “lattice” structure.

At Gore, associates become leaders based on their ability to gain the respect of their peers and to attract followers. Terri earned the title of president and CEO in 2005 — one of the few titles within the enterprise — following a peer-driven selection process.

Kelly is a member of the Management Executives’ Society, the Forum of Executive Women of Delaware and the International Women’s Forum. She also is a trustee of the Alfred I. duPont Charitable Trust, whose primary beneficiary is the Nemours Foundation — one of the nation’s leading children’s health care systems — and is a member of the boards of United Rentals and ASML.