School of Engineering appoints new department chairs

Professors Jeff Foster, Jason Rife, Emmanuel Tzanakakis, and Tom Vandervelde take the helm of their respective departments.
exterior view of the science and engineering complex at Tufts University

The School of Engineering is pleased to announce the appointment of the following department chairs:

Jeff Foster, Department of Computer Science
Professor Jeff Foster received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkley. Before joining Tufts University School of Engineering in 2018, he served as a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Department of Computer Science and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).

His research focuses on developing practical tools and techniques to improve software quality and security. He also studies programming languages and system design and development. Connecting the theoretical with the practical, Foster’s work has crucial applications in academics and in the technical community at large.

He received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award in 2004 and the Outstanding Director of Graduate Studies Award from the University of Maryland in 2017. He was recently elected Chair of the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN) and he received the 2020 Most Influential POPL Paper Award at the Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, recognizing his co-authored paper as the most influential paper published at POPL 2010 over the past decade.

Foster is a skilled administrator with a strong commitment to increasing diversity and creating a welcoming environment for all to succeed and thrive. As Associate Chair for Graduate Education at the University of Maryland, he instituted practices to combat bias and admit more students from underrepresented groups. He has helped lead diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) initiatives as the associate chair of Tufts’ Department of Computer Science.

The School of Engineering thanks Professor Kathleen Fisher for her leadership of the department over the past five years and wishes her well in the next phase of her career at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Jason Rife, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Professor Jason Rife received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. He joined Tufts University School of Engineering in 2007 as an assistant professor and, in 2013, was promoted to associate professor. He was promoted to professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2020.

His leadership skills proved to be indispensable during his first year as chair, as students within the department excelled through a mixture of in-person and virtual course modalities. His talent as an administrator, instructor, and mentor was evident in his deep understanding of the material taught, his commitment to student comprehension, and his efforts to create an inclusive learning environment. He previously served as the associate dean for undergraduate education in the School of Engineering from 2015-2016, and chair of the School of Engineering Curriculum Committee.

As a researcher, Rife focuses on safety assurances for sensors in vehicle navigation. The Automated Systems and Robotics Lab, which he directs, develops novel control, navigation, and interface technologies to ensure safe, reliable, and seamless interactions between humans and machines. His lab has received funding from organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Recent publications from the team investigate methods for validating and bounding navigation performance to enable safety in critical automated vehicle operations.

The School of Engineering thanks Professor Chris Rogers for his leadership of the department over the past five years. During his tenure, he shepherded the department through a successful ABET accreditation and spearheaded a multi-year effort to redesign the department’s undergraduate curriculum to better reflect the tools and skill sets needed for today’s engineer. We wish him success in his new role as the John R. Beaver Professor in Mechanical Engineering.


Emmanuel Tzanakakis, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Professor Emmanuel Tzanakakis received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. He joined the Tufts University School of Engineering in 2014 as an associate professor and, in 2019, was promoted to professor. He holds secondary appointments in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

His research focuses on stem cell engineering and biomanufacturing with emphasis on cellular therapies, particularly for diabetes. His team also pursues the development of optogenetic technologies for engineering pancreatic tissues with pharmacological agent-free control of hormonal function. Implementing a combination of experiment- and computation-based approaches, the overarching goal of his research is the realization of the potential of stem cells in regenerative medicine.

Tzanakakis is an outstanding contributor to the School of Engineering’s strategic area of Engineering for Human Health, with significant, continuous support over the past 15 years from major funding agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Department of Defense (DoD). In addition, he is a well-respected teacher and mentor. In 2019, he was recognized by Tufts’ Graduate Student Council with the Outstanding Faculty Contribution to Graduate Education Award.

In 2021, he was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows for his outstanding contributions to stem cell bioprocessing and optogenetic technologies for diabetes.

The School of Engineering thanks Professor Kyongbum Lee for his commitment in leading the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering over the past decade. We welcome Lee to his new role as the dean ad interim of the School of Engineering.


Tom Vandervelde, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor Tom Vandervelde received his PhD in Physics from the University of Virginia. In 2008, he joined Tufts School of Engineering as the inaugural John A. and Dorothy M. Adams Faculty Development Assistant Professor. In 2014, he was promoted to associate professor and, in 2020, he was promoted to professor. He holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Physics and Astronomy.

His research focuses on the interaction of light with matter, the physics of nanostructures (semiconductor photonics and electronics) and interfaces, along with other special interests in energy materials. He directs the Renewable Energy and Applied Photonics (REAP) Lab and has received numerous early career awards such as the NSF CAREER Award, Alexander Von Humboldt Award, J.S. Mellon Fellowship, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research Program Award, and the Intelligence Community Young Investigator Award. He is also a Senior Member of the Optics Society of America and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Vandervelde spearheaded the creation of the Tufts Interdisciplinary Advanced Materials (TIAMAT) Center, which unites over fifty materials researchers at Tufts under one umbrella, developed two new graduate degrees in materials science and engineering, and serves as the director of the Tufts Epitaxial Core Facility, which brings unique semiconductor production capacity to Tufts.

He is an outstanding mentor who is strongly committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of his teaching and advising. He has twice been recognized with the Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Awards at the Graduate Awards ceremony hosted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. His efforts to broaden engineering’s appeal and to retain students in underrepresented groups led him to found the NSF-funded Creating Future Female Engineering Leaders program at Tufts. He was also co-PI and faculty mentor for the FAST-TRAC program, an NSF-funded program that encourages underrepresented students to pursue graduate degrees in engineering, and he has been involved in mentorship and teaching opportunities around the university as a faculty fellow in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), and the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO).

The School of Engineering thanks outgoing chair Professor Eric Miller, who had led the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2012, for his tremendous leadership and contributions to the department.