The College of Science departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, and Psychology are each naming new department chairs starting in August.
In Chemistry, Professor Alan Esker will take the helm from Jim Tanko, who began his tenure as department chair in 2010. Esker, who joined Virginia Tech in 1999, has focused his research on polymer dynamics.
Eric de Sturler, a professor in mathematics and an affiliated member of the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program within the Academy of Integrated Science, will take lead of Mathematics from Peter Haskell. De Sturler joined Virginia Tech in 2006. Haskell began his tenure as chair in 2007.
In the Department of Psychology, Professor Roseanne J. Foti will take the department chair position after Bob Stephens. Foti focuses her research on leadership perceptions, both from the perspective of self and followers. Stephens began his tenure as chair in 2006.
“I am confident that our new department chairs will build upon the successes of their predecessors as they join an excellent group of leaders who head our College of Science departments,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science.
We asked each of the new department leaders about their plans and why they love science.
Alan Esker, Department of Chemistry
What excites you about taking over as department chair? The privilege of working with the exceptional faculty, staff, students, and alumni that are Virginia Tech Chemistry, and the opportunity to continue evolving our teaching, research, and service missions.
Why science? It may be a fifth-grade science class evaluation that said my performance was 20 points below par. I liked golf, I thought that was great; my parents disagreed. Fortunately, I found subsequent topics in the class more interesting to become “most improved.” If the question is chemistry, I did not decide on an undergraduate major until my junior year when I took thermodynamics. The merging of mathematics, physics, and chemistry was and remains to this day something I find truly beautiful.
Who is your mentor and why? My Ph.D. advisor, Professor Hyuk Yu at the University of Wisconsin. He was my undergraduate thermodynamics professor and one of the sharpest people I have ever known. Even though I was a transfer student, he gave me the opportunity to do undergraduate research in his lab, groveled to his colleagues on the graduate admissions committee to allow me to stay at Wisconsin as a Ph.D. student, encouraged me to do a post-doc in Germany and a second stint at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and sent me the advertisement for the position at Virginia Tech with an emphatic, “Apply there!” I would not be where I am without him.
What book(s) will you be reading this summer, and why? Focusing on the classics — “The Cat in the Hat”, “Green Eggs and Ham”, etc. My children are both under the age of four and love their books.
Roseanne J. Foti, Department of Psychology
What excites you about taking over as department chair? Becoming the first female department chair in the history of the Department of Psychology. Female role models have been important to my development as a scientist. I am excited to continue to be a role model for others.
Why science? During my junior year of high school, one night at the dinner table, I announced my decision to become a music major. That decision was met with a resounding “No!” by my parents. (I would learn later that my parents were concerned I would not attend college and become a keyboard player in a rock band!) I had always been interested in psychology, and at the beginning of my senior year of college discovered the field of industrial and organizational psychology... I wanted to learn more about this field, so I persuaded the other 14 undergraduates in my capstone senior seminar that they too would benefit from a semester long course. During that semester, I learned what I desired in a career: understanding as well as application of knowledge, variety, and change.
Who is your mentor and why? Susan P. Leuk during my undergraduate education and Robert G. Lord during my Ph.D. Both individuals encouraged my interest in interdisciplinary research questions to answer the important how and why questions.
What book will you be reading this summer, and why? I hope to read "Autumn", written by Ali Smith. This book has been hailed as the first great Brexit novel. It’s an integration of time, history, and art to respond to a tumultuous moment.
Eric de Sturler, Department of Mathematics
What excites you about taking over as department chair? I see several exciting opportunities. The first is to help groups and individual faculty members to be more effective in research and teaching. The second is to define jointly with the faculty what are the most important directions in which the Mathematics department should grow. Third, I would like to grow the graduate program and increase postdoctoral research opportunities. This means we need to increase our external research funding.
Why science? I have always been fascinated with the problem-solving ability of mathematics with computers, and I have degrees in mathematics and computer science. Computers bring mathematics to life. The ability of mathematics to describe problems from disparate fields in similar ways and use the same methods for solving them continues to fascinate me.
Who is your mentor? I do not have a single mentor, but I have been lucky to learn from many people over the years. As a “new chair,” I will have two “old chairs” to ask for advice. I also have several good collaborators that are or have been chair and are happy to give advice – “Run for the hills!”
What book will you be reading this summer? I do hope to read a book this summer!