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U-Md.’s next president, Darryll Pines: An insider with ambitious goals

Darryll J. Pines received congratulations Friday after the formal announcement he will be the 34th president of the University of Maryland's College Park campus. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

About a decade ago, a University of Maryland dean pitched a novel idea to Darryll J. Pines: Maybe they could combine forces for an international competition.

Pines, dean of U-Md.'s A. James Clark School of Engineering, jumped at the chance to assemble hundreds of students across multiple disciplines, from eight U-Md. schools, for a two-year, ambitious goal. Pines promised students they would build a world-class team and place first in the Energy Department Solar Decathlon.

“That is exactly what happened,” Pines said, with a house inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem that won the 2011 competition. WaterShed includes salts to pull humidity out of the air to cool it and a plant-based filtration system to recycle water, and it remains on display to give people ideas on conserving energy in their homes. For students, it was a hands-on learning experience — with consequences for the outside world, Pines said.

Solar homes showcase students’ energy, creativity

It’s the kind of ambitious, creative impact he hopes to have as the next president of the University of Maryland’s flagship College Park campus, a role he is scheduled to assume in July. Pines, who brings a wealth of experience as a professor of aerospace engineering and the leader of one of U-Md.'s most prominent and powerful schools, will ascend to the top post after a period of growth and tumult at the university.

Pines, 55, said he believes the school should be accessible and affordable to students, a place that will retain and graduate students who launch careers for the public good — and a welcoming place where a diverse population of students, faculty and staff feel happy.

“I can tell you why I’m doing this job,” Pines said in an interview. “I grew up in a certain Zip code in Northern California,” and his goals for the university epitomize his life, he said. His parents had blue-collar jobs in East Oakland and instilled in their children the importance of education, but if he hadn’t received a scholarship to attend the state flagship school, the University of California at Berkeley, he said, “I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with you.” He went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I truly believe the mission of a flagship campus is to be available to all,” he said, no matter their background or means.

Darryll Pines, a veteran engineering dean, to become next U-Md. president

Many on campus greeted the news of his selection, announced Wednesday night, with delight. Pines, who has led the engineering school since 2009, is an insider, a warm and friendly presence who is well-known and well-respected in College Park.

“Everyone was like, ‘Woo-Hoo!’" said Elizabeth Carlson, 19, who learned of Pines’s promotion in a group chat message with other engineering students. “The reaction on campus has been so positive.”

At a new conference Friday, Pines laughed and joked, telling a reporter who asked what his legacy would be at U-Md. that he couldn’t give away the secret yet. Administrators face many demands and concerns, he acknowledged, saying that even on his way to Friday’s event, faculty members stopped him with requests, and he had to plead with them, “Dude, I’m coming into the press conference, you know?”

But he spoke earnestly about his goals and the honor of being named president. The university “is part of me, it’s deeply part of me,” he said. When he thanked one of his mentors, former U-Md. president C. Daniel Mote Jr., a professor of mechanical engineering whom Pines met when he was an 18-year-old freshman, Pines choked back tears.

Pines’s research focuses on structural dynamics, including adaptive structures and navigation of aerospace vehicles.

“He has a great track record of success” at the Clark school, said computer science professor Michael Hicks, who cited a strong retention and graduation rate, increased faculty diversity and fundraising that exceeded the school’s goals, including a record-setting donation.

A record-breaking gift to the University of Maryland: $219 million

Pines has a commanding, confident presence, Hicks said.

Lucy Dalglish, professor and dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, recalled the kindness Pines extended to her parents when they visited for commencement. So, she made sure to tell her mother that Pines had been appointed president. “You can tell when he’s coming,” Dalglish said, “because he’s got this chuckle … this cross between a giggle and a chuckle. He’s just delightful.”

Pines will replace Wallace D. Loh, whose successes in his decade in office — such as securing research funding, fostering entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships benefiting the nearby community — were overshadowed in recent years by controversies that engulfed the school.

In 2018, football player Jordan McNair died after suffering heat stroke during a team workout, prompting scrutiny of athletic officials’ decisions. Loh, who has been president of U-Md. since 2010, announced in late 2018 he would retire at the end of that school year and fired the school’s football coach despite the wishes of university board leaders. Loh and the board agreed to delay his departure until this summer.

Later in 2018, an 18-year-old freshman, Olivia Shea Paregol, died during an adenovirus outbreak on campus. The university’s handling of that outbreak and the earlier appearance of mold in campus buildings sparked criticism. An external review concluded university officials had followed protocols in addressing the adenovirus outbreak but made recommendations to improve emergency response in the future.

In a crisis, Dalglish said, Pines drills down to what’s important. After the recent controversies, she said, Pines’s presence will set some minds at ease.

Bringing in a leader from outside can be a good thing, Hicks said, but there’s also the risk you lose momentum because the outsider has to adapt to the school’s culture. “When Wallace came, it took him a while to get his feet under him,” Hicks said. “I’m glad we have someone coming from within. I think that’ll be a big help.”

Jay A. Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said Pines is the right person to lead U-Md., calling him an exceptional teacher and mentor, a scholar of great repute, a man dedicated to opening college access to all and one with a deep commitment to propelling a flagship toward all it can achieve.

Pines has made attracting and retaining a diverse pool of students a priority, with recruiting efforts and targeted partnerships resulting in double the number of applicants and improved academic credentials, he said. He is also a leader in a national nonprofit working to increase the presence of minority graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math.

Demand for engineering degrees exploded in the past decade at U-Md. and elsewhere. In 2010, federal data show, U-Md. awarded 595 bachelor’s degrees in engineering. By 2018, the total had nearly doubled, to 1,101. A similar trend held for public universities nationally.

But the growth has intensified a long-standing challenge: shortages of women, Latinos and African Americans in engineering.

A few private universities have made major strides in reducing the gender gap. Cornell University announced in 2018 that half of its engineering undergraduates for the first time were women. But progress has been much slower in the public sector.

Among public universities that awarded at least 500 bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2018, federal data show, the share earned by women ranged from a low of 14 percent at Washington State University to a high of 33 percent at the University of Virginia. The share for women at U-Md. was 26 percent, up from 21 percent in 2010.

Racial and ethnic gaps in engineering have persisted at U-Md. and elsewhere. Black students earned 7 percent of engineering bachelor’s degrees at U-Md. in 2018, federal data show, down from 8 percent in 2011. For Latino students at U-Md., the share was 6 percent in 2018, up from 4 percent in 2011.

Building a more inclusive environment is one of the challenges Pines said he sees ahead, along with attracting top faculty, doing world-class research and working closely with the surrounding community.

“Dean Pines is very, very good at helping students realize their extraordinary ideas,” said David Cronrath, associate provost and former dean of architecture, planning and preservation who partnered with Pines on the Solar Decathlon project. “That is a hallmark of Dean Pines’s relationship with students,” Cronrath said.

Carolyn Payne, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said Pines noticed students needed more opportunities to test their ideas and helped break ground on the E.A. Fernandez IDEA Factory, a lab space for experiential learning slated to open in 2021. “He wants to do what’s best for students on campus,” she said.

Dalglish said Pines has a deep loyalty to the school where he arrived as an assistant professor in 1995, raised a family and cheered on his son Donovan Pines, a soccer star at U-Md. and now a player for D.C. United. Another child also graduated from the university.

University of Maryland’s next president is a soccer dad to D.C. United’s Donovan Pines

For the university, Dalglish said, it’s as simple as this: “He’s family.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.