Growing up in France, Nadine Aubry knew that she wanted to harness the power of engineering to make a positive impact on the world. She loved math and science and drew inspiration from her father, an engineer himself, who continuously encouraged his daughter to pursue her dream.
“He taught me about the excitement of being an engineer, of creating new things for the very first time to help people,” Aubry recalls. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I was convinced that I could become an engineer and have a tremendous impact on society.”
Today, Aubry is dean of the College of Engineering at Northeastern and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Her groundbreaking contributions to the field of fluid dynamics have earned her the distinction of ‘fellow’ of some of the world’s most scholarly organizations, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Inventors.
Over the past few months, Aubry has been appointed to several other leadership positions and selected to receive a major award.
In August, she was elected president of the International Union for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, an affiliation of some 500 distinguished representatives of national mechanics committees, societies, and organizations from 50 countries worldwide. Aubry, who will also serve as the IUTAM representative on the International Council for Science, is the first woman to hold the four-year position and just the fourth person in the U.S. to be selected for the role.
“This is a great honor and a wonderful opportunity,” Aubry says. “IUTAM is an exciting organization because it stands firm behind a rigorous scientific approach to a field so crucial to many challenges facing the world, ranging from the sustainability of our planet to the improved health of all people.”
In September, she was selected as the 2017 recipient of the G.I. Taylor Medal from the Society of Engineering Science for her outstanding research contributions in the field of fluid mechanics. She will be formally recognized at the 54th annual Technical Meeting of the Society of Engineering Science, to be held at Northeastern in July 2017.
Aubry, who currently serves as chair of the NAE’s Frontiers of Engineering Education Advisory Committee, was also recently elected secretary of the NAE’s Mechanical Engineering Section.
“Dean Aubry is a world class scholar and engineer and a proven administrator who, as Dean of the College of Engineering, has advanced many new innovative academic programs both within COE and in collaboration with other colleges at Northeastern,” said Art Kramer, senior vice provost for research and graduate education. “Her recent awards and acknowledgments from the International Union for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, the Society of Engineering Science, and the National Academy of Engineering’s Mechanical Engineering Section are well deserved given her many years or outstanding contributions to engineering research.”
The groundwork for a groundbreaking career
Aubry’s path to becoming a global leader in engineering was paved in the 1980s. She started out in France, receiving a “diplome d’Ingenieur” from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble and a master’s degree from the Scientific and Medical University of Grenoble. She then moved to the United States, earning her doctorate from Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Aubry became known for her pioneering work on the development of reduced models of turbulent and other complex flows, which are used to design airplanes, submarines, and turbomachines, to name just a few applications. Her interest later turned to flows in microfluidics, the science of designing, manufacturing, and formulating devices and processes that deal with extremely low volumes of fluids.
Over the past 30 years, she has held a number of leadership positions both at her own institutions and in professional societies and organizations. Some of her recent appointments include head of the department of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, chair of the U.S. National Committee on Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, and chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics.
“It is very important that our students acquire strong technical and multidisciplinary knowledge. But it’s just as important that we make sure that they’re able to apply their knowledge and develop the necessary skills to make significant and meaningful contributions to the advancement of human society.”
—Dean Nadine Aubry
A bold path forward
As dean of the College of Engineering at Northeastern since 2012, she has overseen the development and implementation of several novel centers, departments, and programs within the college. Under her watch, the college has hired nearly 60 new faculty members and more than doubled the number of students in master’s degree programs from approximately 1,300 to 2,670 this fall.
In the fall of 2013, the college opened the Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education, whose innovative curriculum is designed to arm engineering undergraduates with the entrepreneurial skills to successfully pitch and commercialize their innovations. And in the spring of 2014, the college created the Department of Bioengineering, which incorporated the college’s existing doctoral program in bioengineering and developed new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the field.
Last fall, the college launched the Edward G. Galante Engineering Business Program, which offers a progressive, multi-degree opportunity for engineering students. The result is a program in which students leverage courses across bachelor’s, master’s, and MBA curricula to achieve a unique set of technical, engineering management, and business skills while earning a certificate and potentially three degrees—a BS, MS, and MBA—from Northeastern.
Aubry, together with her colleagues in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, is currently working to create a new bachelor’s degree program in environmental engineering. “Our new major in environmental engineering will focus on making an impact on the environment and sustainability, but it will also attract high numbers of women and underrepresented minorities,” she says, adding that half of the students currently enrolled in the college’s bioengineering undergraduate program are women. “National data show that more women enroll in environmental engineering than any other engineering discipline, with bioengineering being close behind.”
Aubry has also spearheaded research growth both within the College of Engineering and in collaboration with other colleges, resulting in a 50 percent increase in research funding over the past four years.
For her, Northeastern is the perfect place to shape the future of the field as well as the next generation of engineers. “It is very important that our students acquire strong technical and multidisciplinary knowledge,” she says. “But it’s just as important that we make sure that they’re able to apply their knowledge and develop the necessary skills to make significant and meaningful contributions to the advancement of human society.”