Published on: 22-Feb-2018
Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills)
Excellencies and distinguished guests,
Friends, colleagues, students and alumni,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. Thank you for joining me on this special occasion, as we begin a new chapter in NTU's history. Today we commemorate the change of leadership at NTU, as Professor Subra Suresh is inaugurated as the fourth President of NTU, and the first person to be conferred NTU's Distinguished University Professorship.
NTU has dramatically transformed in the last 10 years. From a modest institution in the global top 100, NTU has blossomed into a world-class institution one step away from the global top 10, renowned for its high quality research and education. There are many reasons for NTU's rapid progress in the last few years. The strong support of the government for education, engaged governance and capable management are key.
Under our previous President, Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU successfully redefined its education and research in line with best international practices, earning global distinction in the process.
NTU has been much admired internationally for our rapid transformation and progress. In the next stage of its development, NTU will need to remain nimble and create productive partnerships in order to thrive in the rapidly changing and competitive global environment. The next university president will be responsible for taking NTU's achievements above and beyond what has already been accomplished.
The bar is high. Yet, I believe we have found the right man for the job.
Professor Subra Suresh was recruited after an international search from within NTU, and among national and international top academics.
The presidential search committee and I knew from the start that it was essential for the incoming President to possess academic excellence, as well as a strong track record in management and administration. He or she must have high academic standing and the breadth of academic, administrative and management skills to bring synergy among NTU's diverse disciplines. The new President has to have a good understanding of all disciplines and the interfaces between them, including in research, education and innovation.
The incoming President should also possess a high cultural quotient – someone with an extensive global network, relates well with people and projects across different cultural contexts, and yet can easily adapt to the cosmopolitan community in NTU, Singapore, and the Asian environment.
Professor Suresh has all these qualities and more.
Accomplished engineer and scientist
For starters, Professor Suresh has an outstanding scientific pedigree. Graduating from high school at the age of 15, Professor Suresh received his bachelor of technology degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, earning first class with distinction. He also holds a master's degree from Iowa State University, and completed a doctor of science degree from MIT within two years.
A distinguished engineer and scientist, Professor Suresh is the first and only university president to have been elected to three major US National Academies – the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
His experimental research focuses on modelling the mechanical properties of structural and functional materials, the design and characterisation of connections between cellular nanomechanical processes, and the study of human diseases.
Some of his work has spawned new fields in the fertile interdisciplinary intersections of traditional disciplines in engineering, physical sciences, life sciences, and medicine. In terms of his global impact and influence, more than 100 students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars have been members of his research group, and many of them now occupy prominent positions in academia, industry, and government worldwide.
Professor Suresh's outstanding background and passion for multidisciplinary research makes him an ideal person to lead and contribute to NTU's new endeavours, as it matures into a world-class, research-intensive and innovation-driven university.
Strong links to Singapore
No stranger to Singapore, Professor Suresh has had numerous high-level interactions with Singapore for nearly a quarter of a century. He served as a consultant to the then-National Science and Technology Board and the Advisory Boards or Councils of institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and other government bodies. He was also on the Boards of several faculties within NUS, where he was the inaugural Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Chair from 2006 to 2010.
While at MIT, where he served as dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering, he led efforts in establishing the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre, the first centre in the National Research Foundation's (NRF's) Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE). He presented the vision for the SMART centre and its role in the CREATE campus in July 2006 to the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Exemplifying the MIT spirit of research excellence and Singapore's commitment to R&D, SMART has been pivotal in advancing high-impact research within and beyond Singapore, building strategic partnerships with universities, research institutes, hospitals, government agencies and industry worldwide. SMART represents MIT's first and largest research centre outside the US to-date, currently engaging about 800 MIT and Singapore researchers.
In his leadership roles at MIT, Professor Suresh also helped create new state-of-the-art laboratories, the MIT Transportation Initiative, and the Centre for Computational Engineering. He also oversaw the recruitment of a record number of women faculty in engineering.
Professor Suresh also has a wealth of experience in successfully building and sustaining productive research enterprises.
As director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), he steered a US$7-billion independent government science agency in charge of advancing all fields of fundamental science, engineering research and education.
Handpicked by US President Barack Obama, Professor Suresh's accomplishments as head of NSF included the creation of the Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps), a highly successful nation-wide commercialisation accelerator programme that has captured global attention and is now being adapted in other regions, including Singapore, England and Norway.
As President of Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Suresh led the establishment of major programmes and initiatives at Carnegie Mellon, including the creation of CMU's Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships programme, the Simon Initiative to enhance the impact of technology-enhanced learning; and a BrainHub to advance interdisciplinary brain research. He also successfully expanded CMU's innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem through the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.
The NTU President is one of the most influential positions because many future leaders of Singapore and the world sit in our classrooms.
The University President is also one of the most important positions because it is chiefly here on campus that new knowledge and innovation for the 21st century – and the foundations of Singapore's future – are being created.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we look forward to working closely with Professor Suresh as the fourth President of NTU. I am confident that he will unleash NTU's potential to deepen its impact in the global community, and further raise NTU's standing as a leading research-intensive university.
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