Rod Alferness, dean of the UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering, has announced that he will retire in September, having directed the college on an upward trajectory during the past ten years. An interim dean will be appointed soon, and a national search will be launched to identify Alferness’s successor.
“I would like to express my sincere appreciation for Dean Alferness’s exemplary leadership of our College of Engineering,” said UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang. “His contributions have helped to foster a vibrant, highly interdisciplinary and collaborative intellectual environment that encourages teaching and research at the frontiers of engineering, resulting in contributions to society that improve the quality of life. Under the leadership of Dean Alferness, the College of Engineering has achieved new heights of excellence.”
Alferness has been the guiding hand behind multiple major accomplishments. Under his watch, the COE was named the West Coast hub of AIM Photonics, the cutting-edge BioEngineering Building was completed, and Henley Hall was built and opened as the new, state-of-the-art home for the COE’s Institute for Energy Efficiency. The college also received several major National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, including a new round of funding for the Materials Science Research and Engineering Center (MRSEC; aka the Materials Laboratory, or MRL), major funding for the nation’s first NSF Quantum Foundry, and, most recently, major funding for the BioPolymers, Automated Cellular Infrastructure, Flow, and Integrated Chemistry Materials Innovation Platform (BioPACIFIC MIP).
Craig Hawker, Distinguished Materials Professor and director of the Dow Materials Institute and the California NanoSystems Institute, knows intimately how valuable Alferness has been in championing such ambitious endeavors. “It was a distinct pleasure to work with Rod on establishing transformational, cross-disciplinary centers such as the Quantum Foundry and BioPACIFIC MIP while continuing to support COE jewels like the MRL,” Hawker said. “Rod’s focus on multi-PI efforts allowed UC Santa Barbara to compete with much larger, more established schools and leaves a legacy of future success for the College.”
Alferness also nurtured the growth of the Technology Management Program, which includes an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship and is heading for designation as the Technology Management Department. Academic expansion is also reflected in the fact that, as of fall 2022, students will begin their course of study and research in a newly approved PhD program in Biological Engineering.
Of all his accomplishments, though, Alferness is especially satisfied that, following a period when many professors retired, he was able to work with department search committees to recruit and retain a dynamic group of new, young professors. These highly accomplished engineers, who are receiving NSF Early CAREER awards and other prestigious awards and recognitions at an astonishing rate, are not only continuing the legacy of excellence they have inherited, but are also bringing new areas of research to the campus. Alferness will retire knowing that the college has surpassed the peak number of faculty it had before the numerous retirements, ensuring strength for years to come.
“Under Rod’s leadership we hired an entire new generation of outstanding faculty in the College of Engineering,” said Tresa Pollock, COE associate dean and ALCOA Distinguished Professor in Materials, reflecting the importance of that achievement.
“Rod was a new dean as I was being recruited to UCSB, and I was so impressed by the steadiness of his leadership,” recalls Rachel Segalman, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department. “This first impression held true for our entire time working together. Regardless of the chaos or panic a situation might cause others, we could always rely on Rod for a calm and considered response. This has been so important as the college has grown over the past ten years, but has been particularly valuable during the past tumultuous year of the pandemic. I wish him the best on his well-deserved retirement, and the next exciting phase of his life!”
Alferness's balance of ambition and vision, combined with his collegial and collaborative spirit and calm determination, have been emblematic of his tenure as dean.
John Bowers, professor of electrical and computer engineering, a world leader in photonics-based technology, and the director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency, has appreciated having an accomplished electrical engineer at the helm, with an understanding of the need for first-class research and teaching space and the willingness to go after it.
“Rod used his leadership and management skills to strengthen the college and significantly expand its experimental laboratory capability by shepherding through the construction of Henley Hall,” Bowers said. “His experience at ATT and Bell Laboratories [where he was a chief scientist] provided him with a keen understanding of the importance of technology management, and of the skills that our engineering graduates need to be successful. He left the college in a strong position, and he will be sorely missed.”
Mechanical engineering professor Glenn Beltz, who serves as the COE's Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, has an office a few doors down from Alferness and has worked with the dean extensively over the years.
“Looking at many of the markers of how deans are judged, Dean Alferness has done a quantifiably outstanding job,” he said. “He has responsibly managed and monitored CoE budgets. He has effectively worked with our department chairs to attract and retain faculty members who are among the best in their disciplines. He has overseen how our physical facilities are utilized and taken the lead in advocating for new space. He has cultivated external partnerships and expanded fundraising in corporate and private sectors. And he has provided leadership by engaging frequently with our departments and other stakeholders about future academic directions of departments, centers, programs, and the college itself.
“On the educational front,” he adds, “Rod was always immensely supportive. He bent over backwards to help out with every request I ever made of him — for instructional resources, bridge funding for extramurally supported programs, student organization needs, etc. He recognized that our enrollments should keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for highly prepared engineering and computer science graduates, and that, as a top-tier public research university, we have an obligation to meet that demand. At the same time, he was insistent that our enrollments should never exceed our ability to deliver a quality learning experience in a timely manner. Accordingly, he has been a staunch supporter of the COE’s practice of carefully managing our undergraduate student enrollment in such a way that the college maintains its integrity and excellence of both our teaching and our research, as well as our upward trajectory in both reputation and ranking.
“Rod Alferness has been a fantastic colleague who has diligently advanced our college over the past ten years, and I wish him the best in retirement.”
Alferness is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and of the Optical Society of America (OSA). He received the 2001 IEEE Millennium Award, the 2005 IEEE Photonics Award, and the 2010 OSA Leadership Award. In 2018, he was selected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and received the OSA's highest honor, the Frederic Ives Medal/Jarus Quinn Prize. He has served as president of the OSA and of the IEEE Photonics Society. He is the author of more than one hundred journal articles and holds more than thirty patents for his work in optoelectronics and optical networks.