Announcement: Engineering Dean Larry Larson to step down

September 17, 2021

Members of the Brown community,

After an extraordinary decade, Larry Larson will leave his position as Sorenson Family Dean of Engineering effective June 30, 2022, and, following a sabbatical year, will return to teaching and research. As provost over the past six years, I have been honored to work closely with Larry and have been awed by his leadership — his intellectual brilliance, collaborative vision and commitment to excellence. He leaves an enduring legacy, and I could not be more grateful. 

Since his arrival at Brown in 2011, Larry has far exceeded any and all expectations, establishing the fledgling School of Engineering as a leader in the field. From the start, he worked on multiple fronts, pursuing a vision that included recruiting the best new faculty and constructing expanded, state-of-the-art research facilities. During his tenure, Larry raised more than $150 million for School of Engineering priorities, including the Engineering Research Center, for which he also led the design and construction. This award-winning building added 90,000 square feet of space to the school, considerably upgrading its research infrastructure. The ERC is also graced with the first permanent student-designed sculpture installed at Brown, "Infinite Possibility," displayed in front of the building in Giancarlo Plaza. 

Among Larry’s other major accomplishments are nine endowed chairs, a vastly enhanced and expanded faculty, graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, and huge growth in research awards. In addition, Larry grew the tenure/tenure-track faculty in the School of Engineering by 40% from where it stood in the school’s previous incarnation as a longstanding division of the University, bringing it to its highest level in history. He personally recruited 50% of the current tenure/tenure-track faculty in the school, growing the faculty in the strategic areas of biomedical engineering and environmental engineering, and furthering existing areas of strength in mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science. He also expanded faculty in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Larry and his colleagues at the School of Engineering nearly doubled the school’s research awards to roughly $24 million annually. Deserving of special note is the strong growth in support from sponsors outside traditional areas, including the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and corporate sources. Larry nearly doubled the size of the school’s graduate program, and led the creation of three unique new master’s programs in technology leadership, design engineering (with RISD), and data-enabled computational engineering and science (with Applied Math). 

Other major initiatives include spearheading the campus-wide proposal effort that led to creation of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship in 2016, a project on which he collaborated with Professor Mary Fennell, and creation of the Brown Design Workshop in Prince Lab. With nearly 1,000 users and members, the BDW is a successful, student-run makerspace that serves as a hub for our joint master’s program with RISD and a focus for undergraduate instruction for a broad range of programs across the campus, including engineering, computer science, theatre arts, and others. Larry also initiated the creation of the School of Engineering Corporate Advisory Board, which has been instrumental in providing feedback on student outcomes, development of new programs, industrial partners planning, career advising, and increasing job and internship opportunities for engineering students.

As a core value throughout his leadership, Larry has demonstrated a deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. During his tenure, the school more than doubled the number of women tenure/tenure-track faculty and significantly increased the number of faculty from historically underrepresented groups. In 2016-17, the American Society for Engineering Education ranked the school’s master’s program #1 in the nation for gender diversity. The school’s undergraduate population is also one of the most diverse engineering programs in the nation, with women accounting for close to 50% of graduates. 

Larry is an outstanding administrator who successfully led the school through significant structural and cultural changes. He led a reorganization of the School of Engineering staff, prioritizing professional development and staff training, mentoring and community connectivity. During his tenure, the school has been one of the top-ranked areas of staff satisfaction at Brown in consecutive staff climate surveys. 

Larry also fostered an environment of student engagement in community and curriculum, hosting three semester-long curriculum reviews led by undergraduate students that resulted in a number of curricular enhancements. He established Engineering Town Hall meetings and a Student Advisory Board for greater community access and engagement, and he increased support mechanisms for engineering student co-curricular and identity groups.

Thanks to Larry’s leadership, the School of Engineering stands poised for future growth, working toward solutions to some of the world’s most urgent challenges. These include mitigating climate change and moving to a post-carbon economy, improving global health, and creating equitable economic growth — all issues where engineering and scientific innovation will play a huge part in the solution and where Brown’s uniquely collaborative approach will foster the kind of breakthrough thinking that leads to global impact.  

I will lead a national search for Larry’s successor, and to that end, we have retained the search firm Isaacson Miller. As his culminating year as dean begins, please join me in thanking Larry for his remarkable service over the past decade and wishing him all the best in his return to teaching and research. Larry leaves an indelible imprint on the University, and after his well-deserved sabbatical, we are grateful that Brown — and the world — will continue to benefit from his contributions. 


Richard M. Locke