When Ilene Busch-Vishniac talks about what she wants to accomplish as dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, she borrows a metaphor from her colleagues in civil engineering.
"I would be thrilled if I could end my tenure with people thinking of me as a bridge builder," Busch-Vishniac said, saying she wants to foster the growing collaborations among Whiting School departments, between the school and other Hopkins divisions and with outside institutions.
"I want to build contacts across campus," she said. "And I recognize that we have some very strong competitors in engineering programs in the Maryland area. Rather than always having an adversarial relationship, I'd like to see about building strong ties with them."
Busch-Vishniac, now Temple Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, was appointed dean of the Whiting School by the board of trustees at its May 3 meeting in New York. She will begin work at Hopkins Aug. 1.
"Dr. Busch-Vishniac is a dynamic and energetic leader, with a strong research and academic background," said President William R. Brody, who recommended her appointment to the board.
"She is vitally interested in both undergraduate and graduate education," Brody said. "She has a clear vision and abundant enthusiasm for building on the strengths of the Whiting School and is dedicated to working with faculty, staff and students to take an already prominent school into the elite ranks of American engineering colleges."
Busch-Vishniac will be, it is believed, one of fewer than 10 women deans of engineering at an American university, and one of only two at a major research institution. She will also be the first woman dean of a Johns Hopkins division other than the School of Nursing.
Engineering is still largely a male profession, and Hopkins is considered unusually diverse with its engineering student body nearly a quarter female.
"Because the numbers of women in academic engineering are so small, we tend to be highly visible," Busch-Vishniac said. "We get noticed a lot, which can work both to our detriment and to our advantage."
She said she thinks she has gotten some opportunities--and made the most of them, opening new doors--because she is a woman. Other doors, she thinks, closed on her because of her sex.
"I have a long history of working to make sure that we treat all students fairly," she said. "Their ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual preference, financial status and style of dressing simply don't have anything to do with their talents for engineering."
Busch-Vishniac, 43, has been on the faculty at Texas since 1982. She was promoted to professor in 1991 and served for four years as associate chairman for academic affairs of a Mechanical Engineering Department that had more full-time students and nearly two-thirds as many faculty as the entire Whiting School.
"She's got a good sense of what it takes to be a strong engineering program in the traditional sense," Brody said, "and she also recognizes that Hopkins, because of its deliberately smaller size and unique assets, affords an opportunity to create a school that really excels in ways that are different from some of the larger programs."
Busch-Vishniac's first research interest, developed while she was a graduate student at MIT, is in acoustics. She is currently working on the problem of designing the most cost-effective highway noise barriers, which can cost up to $2 million a mile. She also has developed a specialty in electromechanical transduction, studying manufacturing and other applications for sensors and actuators, devices exemplified, respectively, by the microphone and earphone of a telephone handset.
"Dr. Busch-Vishniac impressed the search committee not only with her extraordinary academic credentials but also with her intellectual energy and her keen insights into the nature of engineering research and education," said Provost Steven Knapp, who chaired the committee. "She will be a powerful leader and an articulate advocate for the Whiting School."
Busch-Vishniac said she was attracted to Johns Hopkins by "the quality of the Whiting School and the commitment to pursuing excellence from the president, the provost and the faculty." The school has increased the size of its faculty by 29 percent since 1992, and nine of its recruits have won prestigious federal awards for exceptional young researchers. The school's research budget has nearly doubled, from $17 million in 1993 to more than $33 million last year.
"What a pleasure it is," Busch-Vishniac said, "to be taking the reins of a school that is in such good shape because of the efforts of interim dean Roger Westgate and his predecessor, Dean Don Giddens."
She said Hopkins is building on its national reputation in such fields as biomedical and environmental engineering and can develop equally prominent programs in such related disciplines as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering and in information technology.
Busch-Vishniac is a 1976 graduate of the University of Rochester. She earned a master's degree in 1978 and a doctorate in 1981, both in mechanical engineering from MIT. Last year, she won the Achievement Award, the highest prize given by the Society of Women Engineers.
Busch-Vishniac's husband, Ethan Vishniac, is an astrophysicist at the University of Texas, who in 1990 won the Helen B. Warner Prize, the American Astronomical Society's annual award for exceptional achievement over five years. He has been offered an appointment as professor by the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
The couple has two daughters, Cady, 12, and Miriam, 9.