In his many visits to Bucknell University's College of Engineering over the past few months, one of the things that most impressed Patrick Mather was the passion of the college's students. They view their discipline as a calling, he said, and "they really want to change the world."
This week, Bucknell announced it will entrust Mather with the education of those students, tapping him to become the new dean of the College of Engineering, effective July 1. Participants in the 11-member committee who interviewed Mather multiple times during the yearlong, international search said they saw in him the same passion Mather perceived in Bucknell's students.
"Pat is a very person-focused leader, as well as an energetic, enthusiastic and genuine individual," said Professor Dan Cavanagh, biomedical engineering, who chaired the search committee. "He exhibited a strong collaborative approach to defining a vision for the College of Engineering, a genuine interest in undergraduate education and a similarly strong desire to make Bucknell better for students, faculty and staff."
Mather also realizes of the value of grounding professional education in a liberal arts context, and possesses the experience to ensure Bucknell does it well, committee members said.
Provost Barbara Altmann said Mather "immediately grasped the importance of our biggest task" — that of maintaining Bucknell's position at the forefront of undergraduate schools producing top-notch engineers while creating opportunities for students to pursue a broad and interdisciplinary education between and among the College of Engineering, the College of Arts & Sciences and what will soon officially be the College of Management.
"He understands and strongly supports the need to build programs that assure the broad education of all our students, no matter what their majors," Altmann said. "I'm very much looking forward to working with Pat, and I know that under his leadership, not only the College of Engineering, but all of Bucknell will thrive."
Mather brings with him a wealth of experience in building programs at intersections of disciplines. He comes to Bucknell from Syracuse University, where he is the Milton & Ann Stevenson Professor of Biomedical & Chemical Engineering. He is also the founding director and has for eight years led the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, an interdisciplinary center spanning three institutions and eight departments, bringing together faculty from Syracuse's College of Engineering & Computer Science and College of Arts & Sciences, as well as SUNY Upstate Medical Center and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Mather hopes to draw on lessons he learned there to further develop interdisciplinary coursework within the College of Engineering and extend the ties to the liberal arts that characterize an engineering education at Bucknell.
"I was attracted to Bucknell by the unique placement of its very strong engineering programs within a liberal arts setting — a perfect combination for the development of today's engineers," Mather said. "I will support and seek to grow connections to other units on campus — and in the region — to meet the needs of today's engineering students, who view engineering as a calling and seek an 'engineering-plus' experience prior to launching their careers."
Among Mather's other top priorities for the College are bolstering connections not only among departments within the University but through external partnerships, and increasing and supporting diversity in the College of Engineering. First and foremost, however, he wants to immerse himself in the fabric of campus, to identify and support the College's strong points.
"During my first 100 days, I will become a 'student' of Bucknell," he said. "I'll be the one with a map out, exploring each nook and cranny of campus — figuratively and literally — and seeking to build connections quickly with all my new colleagues."
Mather holds a doctorate in materials engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara and bachelor's and master's degrees from Penn State University. He was previously an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Connecticut and a research engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory. Bucknell President John Bravman noted that Mather has mentored and worked closely with undergraduate students throughout his career.
"Pat has directed more than 100 undergraduate thesis projects," Bravman said. "His passion and vision for engineering education in an undergraduate-focused, interdisciplinary setting helped distinguish him from a very competitive field of candidates."
Members of the search committee also applauded Mather's extensive scholarship. As a materials engineer in the biomedical field, Mather's research interests center around smart materials, including shape-memory polymers, self-healing materials and biodegradable polymers for medical devices. He has written more than 145 peer-reviewed papers, is an inventor on more than 35 patents, and is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the Society of Plastics Engineering. In 2015 he completed a one-year sabbatical at the Army Research Lab's Macromolecular Science and Technology Branch, where he worked to develop materials to better resist extreme environmental conditions.
Mather will succeed Professor Keith Buffinton, mechanical engineering, who is stepping down from his role as dean. Buffinton was named dean in 2011 after serving as interim dean since 2009. He will resume his position as a faculty member following a sabbatical.
"I am grateful for Keith's prudent leadership and wise counsel during his tenure as dean. He is a dedicated advocate for our mission of educating individuals for a lifetime of critical thinking and strong leadership," Bravman said. "I look forward to having him back as a member of our faculty after a much-deserved sabbatical."
Mather will soon move to the Lewisburg area with his wife, Tara. In addition to his academic interests, he enjoys performing as a musician (he plays bass, drums and guitar), running half-marathons, road cycling and classic movies — especially film noir.