Sarah Rajala named the next College of Engineering dean


Photo courtesy of ISU News

Sarah Rajala is the new dean of engineering.

Mike Randleman

Sarah Rajala has been named the next dean of the College of Engineering at Iowa State.

She comes to Ames with a long history of administration and leadership in engineering, most recently serving as dean of the College of Engineering at Mississippi State University.

After a long, thorough search that spanned from early summer through mid-December 2012, Rajala was chosen amongst two other finalists, after being selected from more than 150 applicants in total.

Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the College of Design, as well as David Holger, associate provost for academic programs and dean of the graduate college at Iowa State, headed the search committee as co-chairs.

This committee “was meant to represent the stakeholders of the college,” Holger said.

This includes more than 20 members that featured students, faculty and staff that worked tirelessly to filter through what was regarded by both Holger and Rico-Gutierrez as a very strong applicant pool.

After the prior dean of engineering, Jonathan Wickert, was promoted to senior vice president and provost last spring, it was crucial to start the search promptly as “there were going to be open positions at other universities for deans of engineering [in the summer]. So, we wanted to start early,” Rico-Gutierrez noted.

After the opening was posted and pre-desired applicants were notified, the committee, as mentioned prior, saw over 150 applicants from across the country as well as internationally.

From this, the number was whittled down to 35 preliminary finalists. After further screenings and cuts, with the next magic numbers being eight and four, narrowing down the list would prove to be slightly more challenging.

“It was fairly difficult to get to eight rather than, say, 12 or 15. Then, to get from those eight down to four was even more difficult. Everyone had to agree [that] this is someone who is qualified to do the job. If we don’t think they would be a good dean, it makes no sense,” Holger said.

Albeit challenging, four final candidates were chosen following a series of face-to-face interviews as well as heavy scrutiny and analysis by the committee and the office of the provost.

After four were chosen, a series of open forums were held to introduce each candidate to the ISU community and to allow each respective candidate to lay out their visions for the college.

Only three forums were held, however, as one candidate withdrew from consideration.

In her respective forum, Rajala’s international experience as well as her strong emphasis on improving student education amongst other items impressed the search committee as well as those in the office of the provost, most who went on to make the final decision.

“We need to celebrate the cultures that are brought to campus and to engage our whole community in those celebrations of culture and diversity,” Rajala would mention in her open forum held on Dec. 3.

Rico-Gutierrez would also note, “She’s extremely well-known nationally and internationally; she’s been president or been on the boards of many major organizations in engineering, particularly internationally.” This global vision for students here at home complements her international engineering experience, which includes heading the Global Engineering Deans Council.

“She also had very solid research credentials as a faculty member prior to her administrative roles,” Holger adds, which attributes to her aforementioned diverse resumé

While the final three candidates would all have made for successful deans in the eyes of Holger and Rico-Gutierrez, it was Rajala’s multi-faceted accreditation and wide array of leadership roles within engineering and administration that triumphed.

Rajala is set to formally assume the position of dean of the College of Engineering at Iowa State on April 1 and will visit Ames from Jan. 17-23.