Grainger Engineering professors take jobs at multibillion-dollar federal agencies and programs

5/11/2021 3:39:06 PM Bill Bell

Harry Dankowicz, Katy Huff, and Kevin Pitts are beginning positions at federal agencies and labs. They’ll be serving at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, respectively. All three will maintain their faculty positions and research teams at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and return to campus upon completion of their time with the other institutions. 

Written by Bill Bell

As work from home ramps down and people begin to work onsite again, three Grainger Engineering faculty are going to return to different offices. Harry Dankowicz, Katy Huff, and Kevin Pitts are beginning positions at federal agencies and labs. They’ll be serving at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, respectively. All three will maintain their faculty positions and research teams at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and return to campus upon completion of their time with the other institutions. 

These positions represent a special opportunity to influence policy and priorities, and large-scale projects and programs with national impact, according to Rashid Bashir, dean of The Grainger College of Engineering. 

“These are very significant leadership roles that Harry, Katy, and Kevin richly deserve. They’ve worked hard and successfully in their fields for years, and they’ve been selected to share what they’ve learned and accomplished,” Bashir said. “These positions are a testament to their individual skills and insights, and they remind the entire nation of the impact that engineering and sciences can and must have in defining our future. Our faculty from The Grainger College of Engineering are in demand because they deliver results, think broadly, and work collaboratively. I am very delighted that these colleagues were called upon and have agreed to serve the nation in these positions.”

Huff is principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy within the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The office has a budget of more than $1.5 billion, and Huff will oversee its five deputy assistant secretaries and activities in areas such as nuclear facility operations, science and technology innovation, and international nuclear energy policy. She is also a professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma & Radiological Engineering. 

“The world is at war with climate change,” Huff said. “It's my honor to be called to serve the Biden-Harris administration in this fight. In this position, I hope to work with other offices in the U.S. Department of Energy such as the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to help nuclear power maintain its role as a key part of the world’s clean energy future. It will be a unique opportunity to advance new reactor deployments, encourage rational national fuel cycle strategies, and help consent-based waste management policy move forward.”

Pitts is chief research officer at Fermilab and a professor in the Department of Physics. Fermilab has about 1,800 staff members and also hosts about 2,000 scientists and engineers from other institutions. “I work with lab management, the U.S. Department of Energy, and scientific collaborations to ensure that we are getting the most out of our efforts and investments,” he said.

One of the largest of those investments is the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which Pitts oversees. It is a multibillion-dollar effort to study the properties of neutrinos produced by a particle accelerator, as well as neutrinos from supernovae. The DUNE detectors will be built more than 800 miles apart at Fermilab and the Sanford Underground Research Laboratory in South Dakota. “Fermilab has been an important part of the first half of my career, and I’m thrilled to be joining. I’m passionate about the science we do, the technologies we develop that enable that science, and creating an inclusive and diverse environment as we do that work.”

Dankowicz is program director for the Dynamics, Control and System Diagnostics (DCSD) Program at NSF. His team is responsible for long-range planning and budget development for the program, managing merit review of funding awards, and encouraging bold, cross-cutting projects in the field. He is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Science & Engineering and recently stepped down as associate dean for graduate, professional and online programs. 

“The fit is ideal,” Dankowicz said. “The DCSD program covers the principal areas of my research, and I expect to learn a great deal about the management of large programs and about the research activities in my discipline across the country. It’s a continuation of my professional life of service, working on behalf of others and the broader technical community to enable successful research collaboration, innovation, and infrastructure.”


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This story was published May 11, 2021.