Michigan Engineering News

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New dean at Michigan Engineering takes the helm in August

Karen Thole is a mechanical engineer who has advanced sustainable aviation and diversity.

Karen A. Thole has been named the new Robert J. Vlasic Dean Engineering at the University of Michigan, effective August 1.

Thole currently serves as a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and as the Director of the START Lab at Pennsylvania State University and Director of the Engineering Ambassadors Network.

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 as professor with tenure in mechanical engineering.

She succeeds 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,” said McCauley. “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., she 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 held positions as the assistant department head for research, the VT ADVANCE professor, and the William S. Cross Professor of Mechanical Engineering. 

In 2006, she joined the Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, where she served as the department head until 2021 and held the title of 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,” said Thole.

People-First Engineering

Michigan Engineering’s people-first approach combines excellent engineering fundamentals, a convergence of disciplines, global worldviews and equity-centered values to help close societal gaps and elevate all people.

Thole’s scholarship focuses on convective heat transfer applied primarily to sustainable aviation and electricity generation. 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 aircraft propulsion and electricity 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 currently 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, the ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award, and the AIAA Air Breathing Propulsion Award. She has also been awarded the ASME Edwin F. Church Medal for Engineering Education and the ABET Clair L. Felbinger Diversity Award. Thole holds the title of Fellow for ASME, AIAA, and the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Thole received a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree 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.

Ceccio is also the Vincent T. and Gloria M. Gorguze Professor of Engineering, a professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. Gallimore is also Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering.

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Nicole Casal Moore

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