Promod Vohra leaving NIU after 30 years

Promod Vohra in 1995.
Promod Vohra in 1995.

After 30 years on the NIU campus as a student, member of the faculty and dean, Promod Vohra has announced that he is leaving the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology for a job in private industry.

“It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” Vohra said. “But I am confident that I am leaving the college in an excellent position to thrive, and to continue its mission of educating innovative engineers to meet the needs of the region.”

The college is a far different place than when Vohra arrived in 1986, enrolling as the first-ever graduate student in the brand new college to study electrical engineering. After earning that degree in 1988, Vohra became an instructor in the college and went on to attain the ranks of assistant, associate and full professor in the Department of Technology, earning awards for his teaching in the process.

He earned his Ed.D. degree in instructional technology from NIU in 1993 and was named associate dean of CEET in 1997.

In 2005, he was selected to lead the college as dean.

Under Vohra’s leadership, the college experienced significant growth and has had the fastest-growing enrollment of any of the university’s seven colleges. At the same time, Vohra forged new and stronger relationships with industry throughout the northern Illinois region, including with companies such as Caterpillar, John Deere, Woodward Governor and Ideal Industries

“Promod has been a great ambassador for NIU and for engineering as a discipline,” said NIU President Doug Baker. “He has provided a model for how to position a college for long-term, sustainable growth, and has embraced connecting the classroom, community and industry in every aspect. His myriad contributions to the university will continue to be realized for years to come.”

Under Vohra’s leadership, CEET has been the fastest growing college on campus for several years. This year, enrollment exceeded 1,800 students, an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2010. The college also has risen to national prominence, currently ranked 45th among undergraduate engineering programs by U.S. News and World Report magazine.

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Vohra in one of the labs in the NIU engineering building, which opened in 1995,
10 years after the college was established.

Those gains were largely due to an array of outreach programs initiated under Vohra.

Since he took over the college, he has aggressively worked to build partnerships with dozens of community colleges, more than 300 high schools and even middle schools to get students interested in careers in engineering. During the 2014-15 academic year alone, CEET hosted nearly 13,000 students from those schools for visits.

Recruitment efforts also extended to the international realm, as Vohra oversaw development of relationships with several universities in India, China, South Korea, Columbia, Europe and Malaysia to attract students from those countries and provide them with innovative dual-degree programs. He was also a champion for diversity.

“Dean Vohra has been a trailblazer for NIU, not only in developing relationships with businesses and establishing innovative agreements with community colleges, but also in advocating for student diversity and encouraging more women to enter the ranks of engineering,” said NIU Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman.

“Promod’s passion for international education, social justice, diversity and inclusion has inspired students and faculty in CEET to form strong organizations focused on social entrepreneurship and inclusive professional excellence, including chapters of Engineers Without Borders, National Society of Black Engineers, Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers and Society of Women Engineers.”

Under Vohra’s leadership, CEET also expanded its research output activity and established strong collaborative relationships with industry partners as well with the Argonne and Fermi national laboratories. The college’s current roster of corporate partners numbers more than 500. Those relationships have not only kept the college in tune with the needs of industry; they also have yielded scholarship and internship opportunities for students, and have been a source of senior design project topics and, ultimately, careers for students.

Throughout his time at NIU, Vohra has worked to ensure that CEET is aligned with the needs of the region, with particular emphasis placed upon supporting the manufacturing community in nearby Rockford. There he helped initiate major private/public partnerships including ROCK (Rapid Optimization of Commercial Knowledge), the Rockford Area Aerospace Network, the Joint Institute of Engineering and Technology for Aerospace and the Illinois Center for Defense Manufacturing.

Promod Vohra“Connecting with the region has always been a priority. You need to have an active dialogue with industry to bridge classroom theory with applications on the factory floor,” Vohra said.

“We have always placed a premium on providing a very practical and functional program. As a result, companies tell us, they are confident that our graduates will hit the ground running and contribute from Day One.”

Another recent example of Vohra’s efforts to meet the needs of the region, while expanding the college’s sphere of influence, was his work to help create the NIU Engineering @ RVC program.

Set to launch this fall, this innovative program will allow individuals to earn degrees in engineering from the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology while taking all required classes on the campus of Rock Valley College. It is one of several efforts launched under Vohra with the goal of helping Rockford foster local engineering talent to revitalize manufacturing in the region.

Vohra worked to keep the college aligned with the needs of the region in other ways, including development of a number of interdisciplinary programs including biomedical engineering, computer engineering, simulation and health.

Under Dean Vohra’s leadership, faculty members in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology worked with colleagues in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to develop an interdisciplinary specialization in nanoscience within the Ph.D. programs in chemistry and physics. CEET also collaborated with the College of Law to create a six-year integrated sequence that leads to both the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Engineering and Engineering Technology and the Juris Doctor (J.D.).

“Dean Vohra has always advocated that engineers are the innovators who drive economic development, and he has encouraged every student in the college to embrace that role,” Freeman said.

“His recognition of the increasing need to produce engineers and technologists with expertise in patent, intellectual property and environmental law has driven curricular innovation across disciplines and promoted collaboration across colleges. Dean Vohra has been a champion of interdisciplinary learning and his influence in this area has positioned CEET and NIU for a bright future.”

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Family has always been important to Vohra (in cap) and his wife, Anju (right), seen here with eldest daughter, Divya, granddaughter, Diya, and son-in-law Vishi Behl.

Despite a hectic work schedule, Vohra has always drawn great strength from his family during his time at NIU.

His wife, Anju, has been a constant source of support and encouragement, as she herself rose to the position director of echocardiography at Kishwaukee Hospital.

Together the couple raised three children.

Their son, Neil, is currently completing law school, and their daughter, Neha, is chief medical resident at Mercy Hospital, in Des Moines, Iowa. Their eldest child, Divya, earned two degrees from CEET and is currently a vice president at Sycamore-based Driv-lok.

“My proudest days in the college were the two times that as dean I was able to award my daughter her degrees,” Vohra said.

While he is excited for the opportunities that are ahead of him, Vohra said that he will remain closely connected to the college that he helped build and shape.

“I plan to be an engaged alumnus, a responsible donor and look for opportunities where I can use my expertise and experience for the good of the college,” Vohra said. “I owe all of my success to the university and its leaders who have provided me with these opportunities. I feel fortunate that I was able to make a little difference in the success of NIU and of its students. My success story is an NIU success story.”

Promod VohraReplacing Vohra will be a challenging task, Baker said.

“In many regards, Promod is the ultimate embodiment of student career success that we try to help every NIU graduate attain. We wish him all the best on the next leg of his journey and express our sincere gratitude for his leadership and passion,” Baker said.

NIU will appoint an acting dean of CEET for the 2016-17 school year, and it is expected that this temporary appointment will be brought by President Baker to the Board of Trustees for approval at its June 2016 meeting. NIU plans to conduct an international search for the next permanent dean of CEET to find the most qualified successor to Vohra; the formal search process will commence in fall 2016.

A retirement reception for Vohra is planned for 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, May 16, in the Sky Room of the Holmes Student Center. Remarks begin at 3:45 p.m.

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