U names first environmental engineering chairwoman

The position was established with a $2 million grant from an alumna.

by Betsy Graca

When Efi Foufoula-Georgiou was 13 years old and growing up in Greece, she was moved to the boys high school after expressing an interest in engineering.

On her first day of math class, her teacher asked her what she was doing there.

The teacher’s early skepticism faded after Foufoula-Georgiou won him over with her skills and dedication.

Now, she has been named the first holder of the recently established environmental engineering chair at the University.

“The message is that knowledge, not gender, makes the difference,” she said. “Show what you’re worth.”

University alumna Rose Ling established the position with a $2 million gift in the name of her late husband, Joseph.

Steven Crouch, dean of the Institute of Technology, said the Ling family has been extremely generous and supportive of the University for many years.

The family previously funded a professorship and a graduate fellowship in civil engineering.

Both Joseph and Rose Ling graduated from the University, and Joseph went on to be a leader in civil engineering.

He worked with 3M and established the Pollution Prevention Pays program.

“Joe Ling was a personal friend of mine and a mentor of sorts,” Crouch said. “He was very successful and well-liked in his field.”

Foufoula-Georgiou said she is extremely grateful to the Ling family and looks forward to meeting them soon.

She said the funding will be used to leverage interdisciplinary research that focuses on the environment.

Federal agencies cannot keep up with the funding of environmental issues, she said. Private and corporate funding will have to play a major role in addressing solutions.

Crouch said one of the reasons he appointed Foufoula-Georgiou to the position was because of her broad scope of research and her potential to create synergy across the University.

Foufoula-Georgiou moved to the United States in 1980 to pursue her Ph.D. in environmental engineering at the University of Florida.

She found herself in Minnesota in 1989 researching hydrology, eco-geomorphology, mathematics and environmental engineering.

Her office is located in the somewhat-hidden St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, surrounded by the Mississippi River and the 45-foot falls.

Foufoula-Georgiou said the laboratory, where she once served as the director, is a very exciting place surrounded by a great environment.

She wouldn’t have stayed in Minnesota so long if she didn’t enjoy the University and its research so much, she said.

“Support from faculty makes the winters warmer,” Foufoula-Georgiou said. “(The University) has a lot of potential to do something great nationally and internationally.”

Maia Homstad, science writer for the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, said Foufoula-Georgiou is always full of new ideas.

“She’s very energetic and fun to work with,” Homstad said. “She’s perfect (to hold the chair).”

Foufoula-Georgiou said as an immigrant from Greece – like the Lings are immigrants from China – she understands the importance of giving back to a new culture as the Lings have.