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Three women named to lead schools in Georgia Tech’s College of Design

Editor’s note: This is the first of four stories on the new leaders of Georgia Tech’s College of Design.

By David Pendered

The three women who this summer take office as chairs of three schools at Georgia Tech’s College of Design continue both a tradition of academic excellence and the growing role of women in fields that once had been the domains of men, according to the dean of the college.

Gulsah Akar

Gulsah Akar, incoming chair of Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning. Credit: The Ohio State University

“We were really excited to have these outstanding candidates – who just happen to be women,” said Steven French, dean and John Portman Chair of Georgia Tech’s College of Design, which oversees these three schools among others.

“All three have been in the field for some time,” French said. “All were full professors who had risen to administrative roles where they were. It’s not like they dropped in completely out of the blue.”

While noting the gender, race or ethnicity of incoming leaders may seem a throwback, events of recent times suggest otherwise. Advances that seemed entrenched have proved to have shallow roots.

Ece Erdogmus, incoming chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Building Construction. Credit: Credit: Amy Rowell Photography

Just last summer, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic spoke of deep, systemic race-based inequities in the nation’s economic fabric. In 2016, then-President Trump cited a judge’s Mexican heritage in deriding the judge’s objectivity. Five years ago, Hillary Clinton reminded of the durability of the glass ceiling in presidential politics.

And there’s French’s own experience as an undergraduate.

“I enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1967, and women were not admitted until 1970, at the start of my senior year,” French said.

French said the three incoming chairs were attracted by the quality of students at Tech, as well as its capacity as a research institute. Tech is a juggernaut of funded research, economic development and other sponsored activities. Tech raised $1.05 billion in such funding in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, according to the latest readily available report.

The new chairs, departments they will lead, previous positions and academic credentials are:

EunSook Kwon, incoming chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial Design. Credit: University of Houston

  • Gulsah Akar, chair of the School of City and Regional Planning, effective July 1. Former professor and director of The Ohio State University’s Ph.D. program in City and Regional Planning. Doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Maryland.
  • Ece Erdogmus, chair of the School of Building Construction, effective July 1. Former associate director of the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the University of Nebraska. Doctorate in architectural engineering from Pennsylvania State University.
  • EunSook Kwon, chair of the School of Industrial Design, effective Aug. 1. Former professor and director of the industrial design program in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston. Doctorate in arts education from The Ohio State University.

These incoming chairs will oversee three schools with a significant impact on daily life in metro Atlanta. A few examples include:

Steven French, dean and John Portman Chair of Georgia Tech’s College of Design. Credit: Georgia Tech

  • The Atlanta BeltLine and Atlantic Station grew from research by students in the School of Regional Planning;
  • New federal regulations on COVID-19 issues that will respond to President Biden’s executive order on worker health a safety, a mandate that includes the June 21 federal rule requiring healthcare employers to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. These are monitored at the School of Building Construction with an eye toward establishing practices to comply;
  • An exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta showcased the School of Industrial Design’s work in the areas of interactive design and user experience.

Note to readers: Read more about the three incoming chairs in stories that will appear in the coming weeks in SaportaReport.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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