Chris Roberts, department chair and Uthlaut professor of chemical engineering, will become the college’s new dean effective July 1.
Roberts said he faces tremendous pressure following Benefield, who has served Auburn in the College of Engineering for 33 years.
“Larry’s been an excellent dean, and the college has advanced in many capacities under his leadership,” Roberts said. “The expectations on me now are very high. A lot of that is trying to fill his shoes and a significant measure of self-inflicted pressure because I want to live up to that standard.”
Roberts, who received his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Notre Dame, has been at Auburn for close to 19 years.
“For the last nine years I’ve been the chair of the department of chemical engineering and the Uthlaut professor of chemical engineering, and I’ve done research in energy and nanotechnology,” he said.
Jim Killian, director of communications and marketing for the College of Engineering, said the University began its search looking nationwide for a replacement for Benefield.
“When we advertise for a faculty or leadership position it’s posted nationally,” Killian said. “A few months ago it was narrowed down to four applicants, and those four applicants came on campus. They had an hour to meet with students and an hour to meet with faculty.”
Killian said he didn’t think Roberts’ prior tenure in the college weighed too heavily on the hiring committee.
“I believe the decision they came to was that Dr. Roberts had the skill set and qualifications to place him above all the other candidates,” Killian said.
Roberts said he felt honored, humbled and excited to be provided with this opportunity to serve the College of Engineering.
“I’m really looking forward to taking on the work of advancing this college to be one of the premiere engineering colleges in the South and this nation,” Roberts said. “Truly, this college has the capacity to be one of the best engineering schools, and I look forward to helping to shape that.”
Roberts said he wants to make student success the theme for the college.
“The dean’s highest priority should be the student body,” Benefield said.
Benefield said he believes Roberts was an ideal candidate to fill his position.
“Dr. Roberts has done an excellent job in leading the Department of Chemical Engineering into the future,” Benefield said. “He set high goals for the department, particularly in attracting world-class faculty members and top-performing students. I believe he will bring the same sense of energy and leadership into his new role as dean of engineering.”
Benefield said he looks forward to his retirement allowing him to focus his time on what matters most.
“I recently became a grandfather, and I certainly plan to make the most out of it,” Benefield said. “The College of Engineering has taken up much of my energies over the past three decades, and even my friends have wondered what I will do in retirement and what hobbies I may pick up. I think it’s going to be fun, maybe challenging, in charting a new direction.”
Roberts said he hopes he can make a lasting impression on the college.
“I want this college to be known for having research and education programs that improved the quality of life and the industrial competitiveness of our region and our nation,” he said.