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School of Informatics and Computing welcomes new dean

Aug. 24, 2016

The path to Bloomington began more than 8,000 miles away in Bangalore, India, for Raj Acharya, the new dean of the School of Informatics and Computing,

raj acharya

Raj Acharya, new dean of the School of Informatics and Computing | Photo By INDIANA UNIVERSITY

It was there that his deep roots in academia were formed. His father, Sunder, was a scientist, a professor at the Royal Institute of Chemistry, and Acharya was always attracted to science. He also was drawn to the United States.

"The United States was the place for science, engineering and education," he said. "When I was a kid, someone in my family had gone to the U.S. and studied bioengineering. It fascinated me that you could combine engineering and medicine together."

That led him to the University of Minnesota in 1978, sending him on a path that would lead him to earn a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, and bioengineering. For his Ph.D. thesis, he worked with scientists from all over the world at Mayo Medical School. His quick acceptance in a foreign land also helped shape his views of his new home.

"I was met with a lot of very friendly people, and I liked the idea that everybody has a chance to rise up from wherever you are to reach wherever you want to be," Acharya said. "I like the idea of being a free spirit, everybody doing whatever they want to do in life. There's no value system about what profession you pursue. Everyone is equal in terms of what they want to do."

Following a year in a post-doctoral fellowship at the Mayo Medical School at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and two years working as a research scientist in Paris, France, Acharya landed at the State University of New York and The Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. He spent the next 15 years as a professor, meeting his wife, Mytri, and starting a family along the way. The work at SUNY and Roswell was rewarding, but the pull of administration was strong, so he accepted a position as a professor and head at Pennsylvania State University in 2001.

It was there that Acharya honed the skills that have prepared him for the challenges ahead at IU. He helped merge Penn State's computer science and engineering and electrical engineering programs into a new school, and he helped found the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and became the founding director.

"I helped EECS grow from its infancy to where it is now," he said. "Starting a new school, getting the people to march behind you, getting a consensus among faculty, getting a consensus among staff, and building an allegiance to the school is something I'm very proud of."

After 15 years at Penn State, the opportunity to lead at IU's School of Informatics and Computing was too good to pass up, and Acharya said he is excited about the work being done in informatics, computer science, information and library science, and intelligent systems engineering.

"The school's research is the wave of the future," he said. "The really exciting and challenging part is the diversity of the disciplines. You have faculty from liberal arts, science, math, social sciences and now engineers. To take this diverse bunch of faculty and students ... I view this as a mélange. It's a salad bowl. I believe that each one should maintain its own flavor and individuality, but the whole reflects the best in everything. I think the excitement and the challenges are the same: to work with the mélange."

With their sons now grown and pursuing their own dreams -- one works for General Electric in Texas, the other is a sophomore-to-be at Dartmouth who interned for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania this summer -- Acharya and his wife are ready to start a new chapter in their lives.

"It's a new start," he said. "My wife was the president of the University Women's Club at Penn State. She spent a lot of time with the women at Penn State, both faculty and spouses, and she thoroughly enjoyed that. She's looking forward to doing something like that here with a University Women's Club. We're really looking forward to continuing the same thing at Indiana, and we also want to take part in the university's social activities. I am very excited to attend many more basketball and football games, movies, and plays. Bloomington is replete with all sorts of cultural activities. It's exciting to start a new chapter, a new phase."

Acharya is feeling a sense of déjà vu, too. 

"I'm in the same situation here as I was when I arrived at Penn State," he said. "I'm very excited about being part of the new Luddy Hall building. The new engineering program is very exciting. Intelligent Systems Engineering is one of the handful of programs in the world that looks at engineering from an interdisciplinary, forward-looking perspective. For an engineer, the Big Ten is where the action is, where the best engineering schools are. This is all a dream come true."

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