Susan Margulies has been appointed to lead the Engineering Directorate at the U.S. National Science Foundation. Since 2017, Margulies has been the Wallace H. Coulter Chair and Professor of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. (Photo: Jack Kearse)
When the call to service came, Susan Margulies just couldn’t say no. Which should be no surprise to anyone who has worked with her during her time as professor and chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.
Margulies will step down as chair in August to answer that call — as head of the Directorate of Engineering at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). She is the first biomedical engineer to lead the directorate, which supports fundamental research, enhances the nation’s innovation through a range of initiatives, and is a driving force behind the training and development of the United States’ engineering workforce. Margulies appointment at the NSF begins in mid-August.
“Susan’s NSF appointment will impact the nation, and I congratulate her on this high honor,” said Vikas P. Sukhatme, dean of the Emory School of Medicine and Woodruff Professor. “Her leadership at Coulter BME over the last four years has been transformative. I have enjoyed working closely with her and respect the high standards she has set for all our missions.”
Margulies has been chair of Coulter BME since August 2017, overseeing a unique collaboration between a leading public engineering school and a highly respected private medical school that graduates more women and underrepresented students than any other biomedical engineering program in the nation. She is the first woman to chair a basic science department in the Emory School of Medicine and the second woman chair in the history of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering.
Though she’s stepping down as chair of the Coulter Department, Margulies will remain a member of the Emory and Georgia Tech faculties.
“I congratulate Susan on this incredible honor and opportunity to serve our nation at the National Science Foundation," said Raheem Beyah, dean and Southern Company Chair of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering. “She has served as a pioneer while leading BME, diligently working to increase access and diversity, while also strengthening our cross-university collaboration with a sincere commitment to research excellence. I look forward to continuing the College’s partnership with the NSF as Susan and the Foundation expand its engineering goals and initiatives.”
As chair, Margulies worked to building a deeper sense of community in Coulter BME, including increasing shared governance with faculty, staff, and students and convening a 50-member committee charged with developing and implementing programs to boost the Department’s community, diversity, and inclusion. Margulies helped raise $41 million in philanthropic gifts to support the Department; led development of a new strategic plan for Coulter BME to increase impact, enhance engagement, and enrich community; and provided leadership to campus-wide strategic planning efforts at both Emory and Georgia Tech.
“The opportunity to serve the NSF resonates with my values — catalyzing impact through innovation, rigor, partnership, and inclusion. It’s an irresistible invitation, and it has to be to pull me away from my Coulter BME family,” Margulies said. “I’m so proud to have worked alongside this unmatched group of students, staff, and faculty in our shared drive to improve health and well-being.”
Building on initiatives she developed at the University of Pennsylvania, Margulies prioritized career development for faculty members and Ph.D. graduates during her years leading Coulter BME. She added dedicated staff to help doctoral students prepare for increasingly popular career paths outside of academia. The Department increased the diversity of Ph.D. students and improved faculty diversity at all ranks during her tenure. Margulies oversaw hiring of 20 new faculty members and launched formalized mentoring for early career professors, including creating a new associate chair position dedicated to faculty development.
Margulies also introduced a new leadership position, executive director of learning and training, to formalize the integration of pioneering teaching methods developed through federal and foundation grants. These initiatives infuse elements of story-driven learning across the curriculum and build inclusive environments in required courses and research labs.
Margulies’ popular weekly office hours with the chair were a year-round forum for students to share their ideas and consult with her one-on-one on all kinds of topics. Those weekly hours became one of her favorite parts of the job.
“Our students inspire me, and these conversations emboldened students to create their unique pathways to integrate who they are with their studies in biomedical engineering — to become who they want to be,” she said.
Much as she has in the Coulter Department and throughout her career, Margulies said, she plans to forge partnerships in her new role across industry, foundations, academia, and around the world to help NSF address some of the most pressing challenges in science and engineering.
"Susan Margulies' extensive experience and expertise is a valuable addition to the National Science Foundation's work to advance the frontiers of science and engineering research,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Her strong leadership combined with her deep knowledge of research translation will help accelerate our nation's progress to be at the vanguard of discovery and innovation. I am looking forward to her insights and perspectives.”
Margulies is a renowned scholar in pediatric traumatic brain injury and lung injury associated with mechanical ventilators, where she has worked to open avenues for prevention, intervention, and treatment. Her career has been marked by interdisciplinary research and education, thanks in part to her training in mechanical and aerospace engineering, bioengineering, and physiology and biophysics. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering.
She has conducted more than $35 million in research with funding from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and industry sources. Her research group has trained dozens of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who’ve gone on to careers in consulting, federal agencies, industry, academia, and startups. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Interim leadership for the Department will be announced soon, along with more details on a search to find the next permanent chair of Coulter BME.