WMU names dean of engineering college


Houssam Toutanji. Courtesy WMU

An experienced civil engineer, educator and accomplished researcher will join Western Michigan University this summer as a new dean.

WMU said this week that it has named Houssam Toutanji the new dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Toutanji will assume the new leadership position at WMU as of July 1 in advance of the 2015-2016 academic year, pending the Jan. 22 approval of the university’s board of trustees. He succeeds Anthony Vizzini, who now serves as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Wichita State University, and Edmund Tsang, who was acting as interim dean during the search process.

Toutanji said he is excited to be a part of the endeavor.

“There are many excellent opportunities to grow the academic and research enterprise in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at WMU,” Toutanji said. “This will be an exciting time for the engineering college to partner with local companies for the benefit of both the college and industry.”

Toutanji serves as the professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where he originally joined the faculty in 1997. He was named department chair in 2008 and associate dean for graduate education and research in 2013.

Toutanji also served as associate director of the University Transportation Center for Alabama, which focuses on transportation education, research and technology-transfer activities in the state.

Timothy Greene, provost and VP of academic affairs at WMU, said Toutanji brings a record of enormous accomplishments as an educator, researcher and academic leader to the dean position.

“We are very pleased Dr. Toutanji has agreed to join us as dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is an outstanding scholar with an extensive history of external funding and working with both government agencies and the private sector,” Greene said. “He has a demonstrated passion for quality engineering education demonstrated by his accomplishments at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and I believe he will continue the record of excellence in engineering education for which our faculty are known.”

WMU faculty, staff and administration spent roughly a year and half in the search process for someone with proven engineering administration experience, demonstrated scholarship, external funding familiarity, a record of outstanding teaching and the ability to work with the industrial community.

Prior to joining the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Toutanji held a number of faculty positions at different universities, including: four-year appointment at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, and international visiting professor appointment at the University of Cergy-Pontoise in France and Ghent University in Belgium.

He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern University and a doctoral degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Worcester and served as a faculty fellow at NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center.

His background in engineering also includes consulting with NASA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the City of Huntsville and the University of Cergy in France. Toutanji also is an accomplished researcher with a focus on fiber-reinforced polymer composites, high-performance cementitious composites and smart structures. He has received more than $6 million in funding on projects where he served as principal or co-principal investigator.

“The state has been speaking to the issue of improving its road infrastructure and Dr. Toutanji, as a civil engineer, has extensive experience working to improve transportation infrastructure,” Greene said. “We look forward to introducing Dr. Toutanji to industrial and business leaders in the Grand Rapids region and look for ways through his leadership WMU can expand their outreach to Grand Rapids industry.”

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