Following the Deans
Brian and Delphine Dean have more in common than just a last name. They are two of the College of Engineering and Science’s (CES) most distinguished professors who also happen to share a dual academic career, an extensive list of awards and accolades, and a passion for research.
It is usually difficult for professors who are married to one another to find positions at the same academic campus. Not only is it rare, but also extremely tough for the professors to find positions within the same college or school. Luckily for the Deans, they were both able to find homes at Clemson University within CES.
The couple met more than 12 years ago during their undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through mutual friends while residing in the same dorm. The couple married in 2000 and continued to pursue their careers in academia. They both applaud Clemson’s support for couples.
“Clemson University is one of the most accommodating institutions for dual academic careers,” Brian said. “Many of our friends who were searching for dual appointments weren’t as lucky as we were, and they’re currently located hundreds of miles (if not thousands) away from their spouses.”
Brian and Delphine received their master’s and doctoral degrees at MIT, both winning prestigious awards during their course work. While they started their research careers at the same place, they eventually found their own niches to explore. Brian focuses primarily on the development of approximation algorithms for a variety of hard computational problems, while Delphine focuses on measuring and modeling intermolecular interactions. Brian received his Ph.D. in computer science in 2005 and began a postdoctoral associate position at MIT. After receiving her Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science, Delphine began working at MIT as a postdoctoral associate in bioengineering.
“Once I received my Ph.D., I began looking for assistant professor positions that were available all over the country,” Brian said. “Clemson seemed like the best fit because of the amount of collaboration taking place between departments within CES. It’s a very supportive academic and social community.”
Brian currently serves as an associate professor of computer science, which is housed in the School of Computing. His research interests are quite broad, covering both theoretical and applied aspects of algorithmic computer science and combinational optimization. In addition, he is interested in developing enhanced multimedia content for computer science education and advancing computer science education at the high school level.
Delphine accompanied Brian to Clemson where she began a postdoctoral fellowship in the bioengineering department. She soon won the Biomedical Engineering Society Poster Award and became an assistant professor within the department. Her main research interests include biological nanomechanics, cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, computational modeling and bioinformatics.
The couple believes there are many benefits to having dual academic careers at the same university. The Deans are currently collaborating on a project using machine vision technology to analyze the cytoskeletal structure of cells and using that to build computational models of cell mechanics.
“Being in separate departments allows us to collaborate, but not step on each other’s toes,” Delphine said. “We are able to read over grant proposals, provide honest feedback, and most importantly, we both understand the workload and demand that academia requires.”
Both of the Deans have received many awards and accolades during their academic careers. Recently, Brian received an NSF CAREER award, which is one of the most prestigious awards given by the NSF to young faculty members. This five-year award will help support Brian’s algorithmic research as well as launch a new initiative to promote computing education at the early high school level.
Delphine is the recipient of an NIH K25 Career Award. Her main research goal involves studying cardiac cell mechanics. Her research will lead to more accurate models of how cardiac cells function. The grant also provides funding for training, mentoring and professional development.
Not only have the Deans been recognized for their research, but they also have both won awards for teaching or advising. In 2008, Brian received the Award for Excellence in Teaching the Sciences from CES. Delphine was named the Bioengineering Class of 2009 Favorite Clemson University Undergraduate Research Adviser, and she was recently recognized with the 2011 Phil and Mary Bradley Award for Mentoring in Creative Inquiry. Delphine currently mentors six Creative Inquiry groups.
Brian also plays a role teaching and coaching high school students in computer science. He serves as associate director of the USA Computing Olympiad, the premier high school programming contest. Every year, the program identifies and trains the top 15 high school computer science students in the country through a rigorous summer program, which Brian now runs at Clemson. The top four students from the program go on to represent the U.S. at the International Olympiad in Informatics.
When the Deans aren’t in the lab, advising undergraduates or teaching courses, they enjoy a variety of other activities. Brian is a pianist who tries to find time to perfect his skills, and Delphine takes figure skating lessons twice a week. She’s also a ballet dancer and will take the stage later this year in a production of The Nutcracker at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. Together, they enjoy hiking, attending local festivals and cooking — they’re self-proclaimed “foodies.” The couple also has two tabby cats, Nano and Newton, whose names should come as no surprise.
“We try to find time to do some of the things we love outside of academia,” Delphine said. “Clemson’s geographic location allows us to do a lot of things we enjoy such as hiking and many other activities the area has to offer.”
Brian recently got tenure, and the couple is looking forward to continuing their careers at Clemson as well as the new research opportunities they will encounter.
“Our disciplines are always evolving, and there is new research that comes as a result,” Delphine said. “We’re looking forward to what the future holds for us and finding new ways to combine our separate interests to collaborate on more projects.”
Written by By Stephanie Williams and Angela Nixon