College of Engineering Names New Dean

Ji-Cheng ‘JC’ Zhao brings 30 years' experience working in academia, industry, and government

The College of Engineering's Castleman Building.

The College of Engineering's Castleman Building. (UConn Photo/Sean Flynn)

UConn’s College of Engineering embarks on a new chapter as it proudly welcomes Ji-Cheng “JC” Zhao as its esteemed new dean, poised to lead the charge in shaping the future of engineering education and innovation.

Zhao currently serves as the department chair of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and Clark Distinguished Chair Professor of the University of Maryland, College Park.

“Dr. Zhao brings a wealth of experience from an illustrious career spanning academia, industry, and government,” says Anne D’Alleva, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “He is dedicated to continuing to build on the College of Engineering’s strengths, expanding its research footprint, fostering transformative and impactful educational programs, and advancing the College’s relationships with local, national, and international partners.”

Zhao’s appointment begins August 12, 2024.

Ji-Cheng "JC" Zhao
Ji-Cheng “JC” Zhao’s appointment begins August 12, 2024.

“Even though I’m sad to depart the excellent MSE Department at the University of Maryland, I am very excited to join Husky Nation and to leverage my combined experience in industry, government, and academia for the betterment of the UConn College of Engineering,” Zhao says.

Academic and Government Experience

Zhao joined the University of Maryland in 2019. There, he gained experience in managing complex budgets, leading cross-functional teams, building industry partnerships, and engaging in development work. In addition, Zhao’s research has focused on the design of advanced alloys and coatings, additive manufacturing (3D printing) of alloys and composites, materials science methodologies, computational thermodynamics and kinetics, and hydrogen/energy storage materials.

Prior to his tenure at the University of Maryland, Zhao was a professor at Ohio State University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and also served as a program director at the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy), managing approximately $100 million in projects to develop energy-efficient and green technologies.

Zhao earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in MSE from Central South University in China. He then earned his doctorate in MSE from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Honors and Prestigious Memberships

Zhao is the recipient of many awards, including the William Hume-Rothery Award from the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS) and the J. Willard Gibbs Phase Equilibria Award and Alfred H. Geisler Memorial Award from ASM International. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), ASM International, the Materials Research Society (MRS), and TMS. He served on the Subcommittee on the Materials Genome Initiative of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and on the Board of Trustees of ASM International.

Zhao is currently associate editor for the Journal of Materials Informatics, the Journal of Phase Equilibria and Diffusion (Springer), and is on the editorial board of Intermetallics (Elsevier). He’s also on the advisory boards of Rare Metals (Springer), Progress in Natural Science: Materials International (Elsevier), and Advanced Engineering Materials (Wiley-VCH).

Industry Connections

Before working in academia and government, Zhao was a senior materials scientist and project leader at General Electric (GE) Research Center in New York for 12 years. There, he invented new materials and processes, mostly for gas turbines and jet engines, leading to 48 US patents covering a range of materials, processes, and systems. His industrial experience at GE will be an asset for UConn to strengthen its collaboration with Raytheon Technologies and other businesses in Connecticut and beyond.

Before leaving GE, he earned the Albert W. Hull Award from GE Global Research— the highest individual achievement award at GE Research for young scientists. His citations detailed his leadership in advancing innovation, for his leadership skills in advancing innovative, state-of-the-art development methodologies that aim to decrease cycle time for materials discovery while increasing robustness of the work.  He also was recognized for his expertise and leadership regarding the in the critical nature of coatings and high temperature materials, and for his enormous energy and perseverance in solving real business challenges.

Changing of the Guard

Zhao will take over the Dean of the College of Engineering role from Kazem Kazerounian, who is returning to teaching and research after 12 years as dean. Kazerounian has said it is his time for change, and will be stepping down, back into the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Manufacturing Engineering, as Zhao steps up into the deanery in August.

During Kazerounian’s time as dean, enrollment in the College of Engineering has more than doubled, research expenditures have quadrupled, and industry partners to date now offer 46 students full scholarships.

“I am confident that Dean Zhao will bring fresh ideas, new perspectives, and a renewed energy to UConn Engineering,” Kazerounian says. “I extend a warm welcome to JC (as we will dearly call him) as he embarks on this exciting journey to lead UConn Engineering. With his expertise and vision, I am excited that our college will continue to thrive and innovate under his capable stewardship.”