Changes at top of UC Merced engineering school

Founding dean will return to a faculty appointment.

December 17, 2009 

Editor's note: The Dec. 17 story about the new dean appointment at UC Merced's School of Engineering incorrectly stated there were eight founding faculty members at the campus, because of incorrect information provided by the university. There are thirteen original faculty members. The Sun-Star regrets the error.

It's a switcheroo at the top of UC Merced's School of Engineering.

Chancellor Steve Kang announced Wednesday afternoon that Thomas C. Harmon, a current professor of engineering, would become the school's head beginning Jan. 1.

Harmon will replace Jeff Wright, the founding dean of the engineering school, who will return to a faculty appointment at the school.

In an e-mail to the university community, Kang praised Wright's work as dean since 2001.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Wright for his unyielding commitment and dedication to UC Merced and welcome Dr. Harmon as he takes on this new responsibility," Kang said.

Harmon, an environmental engineer, is also a founder on the campus, having started work there in 2003 as one of the campus' eight founding faculty members.

His research interests include tracking water pollution, studying remediation programs for soil and groundwater contamination, and creating environmental pollution sensors, according to his faculty page on the UC Merced Web site.

Harmon earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering from Stanford University in 1992. He has a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree from Stanford.

Before coming to UC Merced, Harmon worked as an associate professor at UCLA.

Wright announced his resignation earlier this semester, according to Donna Birch Trahan, a UC Merced spokeswoman. Harmon will take the job as an interim appointment, for the time being.

Birch Trahan did not know whether the university would conduct an international search for a permanent replacement.

Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or

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