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Penn State Dean Chosen as Chancellor of New Research University in Ecuador

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23 October 2014

Daniel LarsonDaniel Larson, Verne Willaman Dean of Penn State University's Eberly College of Science, will leave Penn State in January 2015 to become the founding chancellor of Yachay University, the first research university in Ecuador. Also known as Yachay Tech, the institution aspires to become a leading global research university in the basic and applied sciences and one that will stimulate knowledge-based business and address pressing societal needs in Ecuador and beyond. Yachay Tech is being built as the core of the new Yachay City, the first planned city of Latin America whose purpose is to become the engine powering science, technology, research, and innovation. As chancellor, Larson will be the chief academic officer. His responsibilities will include hiring the deans, department heads, and faculty members, as well as establishing the academic directions of the new university. Larson's formal introduction at Yachay Tech will occur during Convocation 2014, the celebration of the beginning of the university's first academic classes on October 28, 2014.

"It's no surprise that Dan Larson has been tapped to build the foundation of an institution expected to be the hub of innovation and research for a nation," said Penn State President Eric Barron. "Dean Larson has been a driving force in the rise in national rankings of Penn State's science research, which in turn has had an enhancing effect on the education our students receive. We are sorry to see him go, but understand the attraction of this tremendous opportunity."

Larson joined Penn State in 1998 as dean of the Eberly College of Science. Since then, the college has made stunning advancements in national rankings of faculty quality and research productivity, as well as other important factors that contribute to excellence in graduate and undergraduate science programs. In recognition that his performance, methods, and achievements exemplify the highest standards of administrative excellence, Larson was honored as the recipient of Penn State's 2012 Award for Administrative Excellence.

Among his accomplishments as dean are his support for graduate research and undergraduate instruction, his high professional and ethical standards, and the quality of his personal leadership style, his success in recruiting outstanding faculty members, his support for diversity and promotion of a climate that is inclusive and respectful, and his support for initiatives to enhance the public understanding of science.

Larson's achievements as dean include the dramatic rise in national rankings of all the academic departments within the college, as documented in a comprehensive study released in 2011 by the U.S. National Research Council, which ranked the performance of over 5,000 graduate programs in 62 fields at 212 U.S. universities, including all of the major research universities.

Since becoming the dean of the Eberly College of Science, Larson has transformed the college into one that in the National Research Council study is ranked at the top of the Big 10, among the top 10 U.S. science colleges overall, and one of the top two public science colleges in the United States. He accomplished these improvements while simultaneously advancing instruction performance, significantly increasing the number of underrepresented minorities and women on the faculty and in leadership positions, and hosting a vigorous public-outreach program.

Larson consistently is lauded for his extraordinary creativity and vision in recruiting and retaining world-class faculty members and enhancing the diversity of the faculty. His transformative role in the sciences at Penn State includes his support for innovative recruitment strategies that engage multiple departments both within the college and across other Penn State colleges.

Larson's achievements include founding the Penn State Millennium Scholars Program along with Associate Dean Mary Beth Williams. This highly selective program is designed for academically strong students whose future plans include a commitment to pursuing a doctoral degree in science or engineering, and who are committed to increasing the diversity of researchers in science and engineering. Larson's success in significantly increasing the quality of science instruction includes his support of the new Center for Excellence in Science Education, which works to engage faculty and improve teaching and learning across the college.

Larson is known for the range of his personality and leadership characteristics that contributed to his achieving his ambitious goals for the college. These characteristics include visionary leadership, integrity, wisdom, uncompromising standards, resilience after setbacks, sincerity, judgment, listening and observation skills, willingness to take risks when there could be a substantial benefit, proclivity for seeking out opinions of others before making important decisions, and accessibility to all faculty members in the college.

A deep sense of community and pride in the college has resulted from Larson's leadership and example, his high professional and ethical standards, and his support the diversity and collegial climate of the University community. By fostering the conditions in which academic excellence can flourish, Larson's forward-looking leadership has helped to construct a cornerstone of foundational excellence for Penn State that, it is widely agreed, will have long-range implications for the future of the University.

Larson also is known for his leadership contributions to major U. S. science initiatives and advisory panels. He is an accomplished researcher whose experiments have contributed to the understanding of important processes and properties in atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

He is the chair of the board of directors of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope -- one of the world's largest optical telescopes and an instrument for which Penn State is a major partner institution. Larson also is past chair of the Space Telescope Institute Council, providing oversight of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the organization that manages the science mission of the Hubble Space Telescope and the future James Webb Space Telescope.

Larson was honored in 2006 as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of his distinguished research, professional, and academic contributions to the advancement of physics. Larson also is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the Optical Society of America, and an elected member of the honorary societies Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and Sigma Pi Sigma.

He has served on many national planning groups, science-evaluation panels, science-advocacy committees, funding-agency panels, and review boards. He has supervised the doctoral dissertations of 21 physicists and has published numerous research papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Among his many service contributions to Penn State, Larson has served as vice-chair and chair of the Academic Leadership Council, member of the Applied Research Laboratory Advisory Board, member of the University Cost-Savings Task Force, member of the Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, vice-chair and chair of the Penn State United Way Campaign, member of the board of directors of the Penn State Research Foundation, co-leader of the Health Sciences 2020 Team, member of the University Strategic Planning Council, chair of the Achieving Excellence Task Force, and member of the University Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council.

Before joining Penn State in 1998 as dean of the Eberly College of Science, Larson was the Maxine S. and Jesse W. Beams Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia, where he was among the most highly respected researchers and consistently was ranked among the best physics teachers. At the beginning of his career, Larson was an assistant professor of physics at Harvard University from 1970 to 1975, and was an associate professor of physics there from 1975 to 1978. He then joined the University of Virginia in 1978 as an associate professor of physics, was promoted to professor in 1987, was associate dean of arts and sciences from 1989 to 1991, was chairman of the physics department there from 1991 to 1997, and was named the Maxine S. and Jesse W. Beams Professor of Physics in 1996. He also was a visiting professor at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in 1985 and 1986 and at Chalmers University in Sweden in 1986 and a visiting scientist at the Laboratoire Aimé Cotton in France in 1991. He joined the Penn State faculty as professor of physics and dean of the Eberly College of Science in 1998 and was named the Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science in 2001.

Larson graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor-of-arts degree in physics and mathematics from St. Olaf College in 1966. He earned his master's degree in 1967 and his doctoral degree in 1971, both in physics at Harvard University. He was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1966 and was a National Science Foundation graduate fellow from 1966 to 1970.

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