Dr. Thomas Katsouleas, was officially voted into office this past Tuesday by UConn’s Board of Trustees as the 16th president in UConn’s history. Serving as the current Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Virginia (UVa) and previously as Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas is certainly well qualified for the job. Even more notable, is his demonstrated commitment to furthering environmental sustainability efforts in his previous leadership positions at Duke and Virginia.
This past October, members of the student organizations EcoHusky, ECOalition, and the Undergraduate Student Government Governing Board drafted a letter to UConn’s Presidential Search Committee urging them to only consider candidates who have demonstrated a sincere commitment to environmental sustainability in their career. The letter was formally endorsed by the University Senate, reflecting a unified interest between the student body and this important UConn legislative organization, which is comprised of faculty, staff and students.
As an established green campus leader, it is crucial for UConn to have a president who recognizes sustainability as one of the University’s transcendent values. With the appointment of Dr. Katsouleas, it is clear that the Presidential Search Committee took these student concerns seriously.
As Dean of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas helped to organize the inaugural National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Summit. In 2010, he formed Duke’s Katsouleas NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program. This program, the first of its kind in the nation, challenges students to use their expertise and skills to address one or more of 14 challenges posed by the NAE, many with links to sustainability.
Katsouleas is also an advisory board member of UVa’s Yamuna River Project. A heavily polluted waterway in India, the Yamuna is an environmental and public health concern. The project aims to restore the river and promote ecosystem recovery through interdisciplinary collaboration, with sustainable design solutions that “take into account, culture, behavior and policy, as well as technical feasibility and economic viability.”
As a Yamuna River board member, Katsouleas was in full support of the project as both a public service and learning opportunity. In a statement to CTMirror.org, he referred to these experiential learning opportunities as “not luxuries, but essential for an educated populace that wishes to address the human element in today’s challenges.”
Other notable involvements include helping to organize, and presenting at, UVa’s Sustainability Retreat in August 2015. The retreat convened 60 of the University’s leaders in order to develop a framework for longer-term sustainability strategic planning. As Dean of Engineering at Duke 10 years ago, Katsouleas supported the construction of Duke’s Smart Home, the nation’s first LEED Platinum-certified “live-in laboratory.” The Smart Home provides 10 select students with a greener, technologically advanced living space, while also demonstrating those attributes for related research and educational purposes.
President Katsouleas certainly has big shoes to fill, but his commitment to sustainability and students proves that he is up to the challenge.