Va. Tech names 2 engineering department heads
Atkins and Kodambaka to start in July, August
Two departments in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering will have new leaders beginning this summer, the university announced this week.
Suneel Kodambaka has been named head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and will start July 1, and Ella Atkins will be head of the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace starting Aug. 1.
Kodambaka comes to Virginia Tech from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was a faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering since 2007. He was also vice chair of undergraduate studies from 2013 to 2018 and the area director of the online master’s degree in structural materials and material science programs since 2019.
Kodambaka will replace Sean Corcoran, who was interim department head since David Clark retired in 2021.
His research has focused on the science underlying the synthesis and stability of advanced materials for aerospace, energy storage, optoelectronics and other industries. His work has been funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation and Northrop Grumman.
Kodambaka earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois-Champaign, a master’s in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a bachelor’s in metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madres in India.
Atkins comes to Virginia Tech from the University of Michigan, where she is a professor of aerospace engineering and directs the Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab. Until 2020, she served as associate director of the university’s Robotics Institute. She also spent a year as a technical fellow at Collins Aerospace.
Atkins’ research has focused on perception, decision making, and control algorithms to improve the performance and safety of unmanned aircraft systems and advanced air mobility operations. Her research includes the investigation of airspace geofencing for safety and traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems, mapping out a smart service system for traffic management in low-altitude airspace, and cyber-physical communication for cooperative human-robot mobility.
“This is a pivotal moment, as the department is poised for remarkable growth and has the potential to become an even greater center of academic excellence,” Atkins said in a statement. “Enrollment and student demand for the program is high, and there is much excitement with the investment in new teaching and research facilities in both Blacksburg and in close proximity to government agencies. I am also thrilled at the chance to collaborate and strengthen existing partnerships on campus with the National Security Institute serving national security and defense needs and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership supporting safety and policy of operations in autonomous and cyber-physical systems.”
Atkins has published more than 250 papers and advised more than 25 Ph.D. students.
She will succeed Eric Paterson, who led the department for nearly 10 years and was named executive director of the new Virginia Tech National Security Institute. Robert Canfield had been serving as interim department head.
Atkins earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s and Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan.