World-renowned computer scientist Tina Eliassi-Rad installed as inaugural Joseph E. Aoun Professor

Northeastern professor Tina Eliassi-Rad is installed as the first Joseph E. Aoun Professor during a ceremony in EXP. Photos by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Tina Eliassi-Rad has long been at the forefront of understanding how technology shapes our world. The Northeastern University professor in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences has a list of accomplishments that includes global awards and recognitions and over 150 peer-reviewed publications, while holding core faculty appointments in the university’s Network Science and Experiential AI institutes. With decades of experience in the field, Eliassi-Rad is responsible for the development of algorithms implemented by world governments and IBM.

In recognition of her remarkable accomplishments, Eliassi-Rad was installed last week as the inaugural Joseph E. Aoun Professor in a ceremony attended by university leadership and many of Eliassi-Rad’s peers from around the world. The event was held on the top floor of Northeastern’s new EXP building on the Boston campus.

The honor is the first of eight professorships in honor of Aoun made possible by a $25 million gift from Alan McKim, vice chair of the university’s Board of Trustees.

“I support this university because I believe wholeheartedly in the power of a Northeastern education and how it transforms lives,” McKim said. “I wanted to recognize Joseph for his leadership and his passion for faculty excellence. Supporting faculty is a way of touching all areas of the university and the perfect area to invest and really make a big impact.” 

The president told McKim he was humbled by the gift in his name. 

“What you have done is unheard of,” he said. “It’s not often that the president is speechless, but you made me speechless.”

Board of Trustees chair Richard D’Amore called Aoun “the most outstanding academic entrepreneur of our generation,” and said “under his leadership, we’ve carved a niche for Northeastern that will set us up to be a leader for many years forward. We never stop and look at what others are doing. We look at what the world needs. That’s truly unique in higher education.”  

Before coming to Northeastern in 2016, Eliassi-Rad was on the computer science faculty at Rutgers University and a principal investigator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. She holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin. 

“I am honored and humbled,” Eliassi-Rad said of the honor. “I stand here because many have supported me — including President Aoun, Mr. McKim, Dr. (Amin) Khoury, Provost (David) Madigan, Dean (Elizabeth) Mynatt, my family, students, postdocs, collaborators, supporters, mentors, and numerous funding agencies. Thank you, one and all.” 

Her research on the intersection of data mining, machine learning and network science has been applied to technologies and systems in wide everyday use, including for mobile ad targeting, fraud detection, large-scale scientific data and drug discovery, and ethical frameworks for machine learning.

At Northeastern, Eliassi-Rad’s work has transitioned from the theoretical realm to tackling problems in the real world. 

“I chose problems that piqued my curiosity without worrying too much about how those problems or my solutions would affect society,” she said. “However, in 2016 (which coincided with my move to Northeastern) I learned that some of my work had proved useful for global and national security, and I had a crisis of conscience. 

“When my team and I developed that work, we did not think about its broader implications. It was all fun: solving computational problems,” she said. “That episode led to a change in my research, where the societal impact of my work became a first-class citizen.”   

Eliassi-Rad has received more than $40 million in research grants. In 2023 she was named a fellow of the Network Science Society and winner of the Lagrange Prize — the top global award for the study of complex systems. In 2022 she was awarded the university’s Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, presented annual to one or two full-time faculty members who have produced work with far-reaching impact. She became an ISI Foundation Fellow in 2019 and was named one of the 100 Brilliant Women in AI Ethics in 2021. 

Recent co-authored publications have focused on the role of network science and social structures in equitable information access, as well as COVID-19’s impact on racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

“I’m thrilled that you are the first holder of the chair,” Aoun told Eliassi-Rad. “You deserve it, and you are going to continue to do great things!”

In his remarks, Madigan underscored how vital endowed professorships like the Aoun Chair are in advancing that research even further.

“Endowed chairs are incredibly important to great research universities,” he said. “They allow us to attract and retain truly outstanding global scholars and provide funds for novel and risky new research.” 

McKim’s gift to establish the Aoun professorships follows a $30 million investment he made in 2012 with D’Amore — a total of $60 million — to name the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern.

Schuyler Velasco is a Northeastern Global News Magazine senior writer. Email her at Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @Schuyler_V.