by Cristina Farmus
By any measure, the School of Chemical Engineering
has grown tremendously under Arvind Varma's
leadership, from January 2004 until July 2016. The
faculty head count increased from 22 to 35, the graduate
student enrollment increased from 118 to 146, and the
undergraduate enrollment increased from 311 to 625.
Research expenditures doubled, and so did the
School's space by dedicating a new addition. In the
ensuing years an intense fundraising campaign to
renovate the original part of the building took place.
Those renovations concluded this fall and Forney
Hall of Chemical Engineering has never been a more
attractive place to study, work, collaborate and excel.
Varma was tremendously successful with alumni
relations and fundraising. Since 2004, the number of
endowments grew over 300 percent for initiatives
ranging from a named headship to junior faculty
endowments. He also fundraised for laboratory
renovations and for strategic funds that can be used
in areas of the greatest need.
The numbers speak for themselves, but there is
even more to say about the quality of the Chemical
Engineering program. With two recipients of the
National Medal of Technology and Innovation, six
members of the National Academy of Engineering,
seven distinguished professors and eight named
professors, the School is at the forefront of the ChE
With such outstanding faculty, our students are
equally achieving. As of Fall 2015, 70 percent of
Chemical Engineering undergraduates have a GPA
of 3. 2 and above and they receive more than their
fair share of fellowships, scholarships, awards and
Co-Op assignments. One of our students was the
Chair of the National Executive Student Committee
of AIChE for 2014-15, and more recently, Purdue was
selected as an AIChE Outstanding Student Chapter
in 2015-16. Additionally, Chemical Engineering
undergraduates served on Purdue's Board of Trustees
from 2009-11 and 2011-13.
Many significant milestones were reached during
Varma's time at the helm: 100 years of Chemical
Engineering Curriculum at Purdue in 2007, the
School's Centennial Celebration in 2011, and the
50th anniversary of the Kelly Lectures in 2015.
Another of his major accomplishments is that new
graduate students are supported by School funds
for a full academic year effective 2015-16. This
practice brings Purdue Chemical Engineering in line
with the top Chemical Engineering programs in the
The work of a Head is not easy. He or she must make
all this possible and create an environment where
everyone is challenged to perform their best and
rewarded accordingly. It is a constant balancing act
between short term needs and long term vision; limited
resources and high demand programs; recruiting and
retention; undergraduate and graduate needs; research
excellence and educational initiatives. Varma was able
to do this and more. He maintained a full research
program, publishing over 65 papers and advising 10
PhD students during his tenure as Head.
Through two strategic plans, one constant prevailed:
This School is recognized among the premier ranks
of Chemical Engineering programs in the world.
Varma never lost the School's vision from his sight;
despite constant demands on his time and attention,
the School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue is a
better place due to his contributions.
Arvind Varma Steps Down as Head of the School