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Dawn Tilbury heads NSF Engineering Directorate


Dawn TilburyThe National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected a University of Michigan mechanical engineering professor to serve as head of its Directorate for Engineering. 

Dawn Tilbury is a professor of mechanical engineering and former associate dean for research at U-M’s College Engineering.

NSF’s Directorate for Engineering is charged with supporting engineering research and education critical to the nation’s future and fostering innovations to benefit society. NSF assistant directors serve terms of up to four years. Tilbury will retain her U-M appointment and intends to return to the Michigan Engineering faculty when her term with the NSF is completed.

“Throughout her career, Dawn Tilbury has built collaborative relationships across disciplines to make research projects successful,” said NSF Director France Córdova.

“I am thrilled to have that kind of leadership for the Engineering Directorate, which makes imagination real and future technologies possible. She is also passionate about mentoring junior faculty, particularly junior women faculty, in their careers—a passion shared across NSF as we seek to develop STEM talent from all sectors and groups in our society.”

The Directorate for Engineering provides about 32 percent of the federal funding for fundamental research in engineering at academic institutions. The directorate distributes about 1,600 research awards across the fields of engineering each year. Research funded by the division has enriched the understanding of natural systems, enhanced electronics, fortified the nation’s infrastructure and introduced the exciting possibilities of engineering to the next generation, according to NSF.

The Directorate is home to many of NSF’s activities that aim to foster innovation and technology transfer. NSF’s renowned Small Business Innovation Research program enables companies to undertake research and development with high technical risk and high commercial reward. The Innovation Corps program enables faculty and students to pursue commercialization of technologies based on previous NSF-funded research.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with the engineering and scientific community to address the big challenges that face the nation and world today,” Tilbury said. “These challenges require interdisciplinary approaches that must include not only engineering, but also social and computer science, biology and chemistry, physics and the geosciences, and so on.

“As the primary funder of basic research, NSF is uniquely positioned to bring people together to discover new approaches to renewable energy, reliable transportation, enhanced health and safety, and other national challenges.”

A professor at U-M since 1995, in both mechanical and electrical engineering, Tilbury has a background in systems and control engineering. She is the inaugural chair of the Robotics Steering Committee at U-M, and has identified and capitalized on opportunities to advance robotics research at the university. In 2016, the U-M Board of Regents approved a $75 million building for research and teaching facilities, including laboratories for walking and flying robots and autonomous cars. She has written or co-authored more than 60 peer-reviewed papers, reports, book chapters and books, and holds a patent with two other researchers on logic controllers for machining systems.

“We will miss Professor Tilbury’s leadership and expertise here at Michigan Engineering. She has been instrumental in the growth of the College’s research portfolio in recent years, particularly in the expansion of our robotics program,” said Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “At the same time, we are grateful that she has chosen to serve the nation’s engineering and scientific enterprise in this important way.

Tilbury has been active in professional society and academic leadership positions, and has received numerous honors and awards for outstanding research and leadership. She has been a principal investigator on dozens of highly-competitive federal awards, including an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) in 1998. She has supervised dozens of graduate students and planned the Big 10 Women’s Workshops, a multi-university mentoring and networking workshop series for junior women faculty in engineering, in 2010, 2013 and 2016.

Tilbury began her NSF appointment in June, 2017.

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