Karen Thole to become College of Engineering dean


Karen A. Thole has been named the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, effective Aug. 1.

Thole currently is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the START (Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine) Lab at The Pennsylvania State University, and director of the Engineering Ambassadors Network.

A photo of Karen A. Thole
Karen Thole

Her five-year appointment was authorized by Laurie McCauley, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and will be reported to the Board of Regents at its May 16 meeting. Thole also was appointed a professor with tenure in mechanical engineering.

She will succeed Alec D. Gallimore, who stepped down to become provost and chief academic officer at Duke University, and Steven L. Ceccio, professor of mechanical engineering and of naval architecture and marine engineering, who serves as interim dean until July 31.

“As a pioneering researcher with a distinguished career in thermal sciences and strong commitments to innovation and mentoring the next generation, Dr. Thole is certain to find a community ready for her visionary leadership at the University of Michigan,” McCauley said.

“Her arrival heralds a future where the College of Engineering continues to build on its reputation as a nationally sought-after destination for faculty, staff and students and as a collaborative leader on our campus.”

Thole was a research engineer for the Nuclear Test and Engineering Division of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and, after completing her Ph.D., was a postdoctoral research associate at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

She began her academic career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994 and moved to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1999, where she was the assistant department head for research, the VT ADVANCE professor and the William S. Cross Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

In 2006, she joined Penn State’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, where she was department head until 2021 and is a University Distinguished Professor.

“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen for this position. Using the People-First Engineering approach, I hope to help Michigan’s diverse and talented community of faculty, staff, students and alumni continue to find solutions to the challenging problems that our world faces,” Thole said.

Thole’s scholarship focuses on convective heat transfer. Her focus includes taking theory to application by way of developing new cooling designs for harsh, high temperature environments. Her research has led to increases in energy efficiency in propulsion and power generation.

Her research efforts have included setting up unique experimental facilities that address needed predictive methods for convective heat transfer and pressure loss of various cooling methods, particularly applied to gas-turbine airfoils. She has extensively used additive manufacturing and optimization methods to develop new and complex cooling strategies.

Thole has held service leadership roles in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Aeronautics. She served on the NASA Advisory Council’s Aeronautics Committee from 2013-20 and is on the Department of Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and NASA’s Aeronautics Research and Technology Round Table. She chairs the Government Relations Committee for the Gas Turbine Association.

Three technical awards received by Thole are the ASME R. Tom Sawyer Award, the ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award, and the AIAA Air Breathing Propulsion Award. She also has been awarded the ASME Edwin F. Church Medal for Engineering Education and the ABET Clair L. Felbinger Diversity Award. Thole is a fellow in ASME, AIAA and the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Thole received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.


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