Higgs appointed vice provost for academic affairs

Professor C. Fred Higgs III has been appointed vice provost for academic affairs. His five-year term in this role will begin July 1 when he completes his year as interim vice provost.

C. Fred Higgs III

C. Fred Higgs III

“I am delighted that Fred Higgs has accepted our offer to become vice provost for academic affairs,” said Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. “Dr. Higgs is a careful listener and thoughtful deliberator who has already contributed critical insights during his time as interim VPAA. He brings significant experience in faculty development, a very capable management style and, above all else, a deep commitment to ensuring that faculty and students are served well by the university.”

Since coming to Rice from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in 2016, Higgs has been the John and Ann Doerr Professor in Mechanical Engineering and the faculty director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL). As VPAA, he will manage a part of the provost’s central academic operations team whose most important role is to serve Rice faculty in all dimensions of their work.

“The Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade (V2C2) requires senior leadership and faculty to collaborate via seamless two-way communication,” Higgs said. “The VPAA office will facilitate this communication as it provides support across the faculty life cycle.”

“I have immensely enjoyed working with Fred in his role as interim VPAA and have found his thoughtful advice on a wide range of issues to be of tremendous value,” said President David Leebron. “I am thrilled he will continue in this role, as he makes every decision better through his participation in it.”

Several offices report to the provost through the VPAA office, including the Office of International Students and Scholars, the Program in Writing and Communication, the Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication, the Office of Faculty Development and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Higgs said he wants to enhance the interaction between Rice’s “amazing undergraduate students and faculty” in a meaningful way that enriches their academic and personal lives. “Faculty-student interaction can occur organically, but it can also be formally done well through thoughtfully designed academic advising, mentorship, undergraduate research and inquiry-based learning,” he said.

The excellent mixture of Rice faculty members also enriches the student learning experience greatly, Higgs said. “Rice has a rich array of faculty in multiple roles. The VPAA works to create an environment where all of our faculty members thrive and embrace our common mission of providing the highest-quality education for Rice students,” he said.

Higgs will continue to serve as faculty director of RCEL. “My primary role as the faculty director is to provide the vision to ensure that our engineering students are inspired, ethical, enthusiastically technical and ready to become broad-thinking leaders of technology and engineering,” he said. Higgs also plans to maintain an active albeit more narrowly focused research program on his lab’s core expertise in multiphase particle media and tribology (the study of interacting surfaces and their associated friction, lubrication and wear).

Higgs has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Tennessee State University and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology for two years before joining the Carnegie Mellon faculty, where he matriculated from assistant to full professor and directed the Particle Flow and Tribology Laboratory.

Higgs has testified on behalf of Rice before Congress on the importance of science and technology to the future of the United States. A fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Higgs is an associate editor for the Tribology Transactions journal and a member of the ASME Tribology executive committee. He also co-founded two companies, including InnovAlgae, a CMU startup that developed technology to extract energy and high-value products from algae. He was profiled in a Houston Chronicle series on up-and-coming geniuses.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.