Lance R. Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, is one of 106 new members elected to the National Academy of Engineering for 2021, among the highest professional distinctions for an engineer.  

Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering at Cornell University for a decade before joining the Innovation Campus last year, is being honored for his contributions to understanding turbulent processes, leadership in engineering, and contributions to the diversity of the profession.

“I am excited, humbled and honored by the opportunity to join leaders at the National Academy of Engineering,” Collins said. “I share this honor with the mentors, colleagues, and students at Cornell who guided me and supported my research and ideas. It infuses me with energy as we move forward to build partnerships and create a new model of graduate education at the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.”

Collins, who led Cornell’s College of Engineering from 2010-20, was a key member of the leadership team that successfully bid to partner with New York City to build Cornell Tech, which opened its Roosevelt Island campus in 2017. He first joined Cornell in 2002 as a professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Collins’ appointment to Virginia Tech culminated an international search for the leader of the Innovation Campus, which was announced by the university as part of the state’s successful effort to attract Amazon’s HQ2 to Northern Virginia. 

The Innovation Campus leader has made recruiting a diverse faculty and student body among the highest priorities of his new job in Northern Virginia. He came to Virginia Tech last month with a proven record in that area.

At Cornell, Collins accelerated efforts to diversify the college’s faculty and student body: From 2010 to 2020, the proportion of underrepresented minority students increased from 8 to 19 percent and the undergraduate female enrollment from 33 to 50 percent.  

Cornell Engineering’s Class of 2021 is the first in the college’s history to contain more women than men. For these efforts, he received the inaugural Mosaic Medal of Distinction from Cornell Mosaic, created to recognize alumni, faculty, and administrators for their leadership in creating opportunities and access for diverse communities, and the 2018 Edward Bouchet Legacy Award from Howard University and Yale University, which recognizes educators and advocates who promote diversity and inclusion.

His success was also recognized with the establishment of the Lance R. Collins Fellowship, created to support Cornell engineering graduate students from traditionally underrepresented populations.

Prior to Cornell, Collins spent 11 years as an assistant professor, associate professor, and professor of chemical engineering at Penn State University. His research combines simulation and theory to study a variety of turbulent flow processes such as multiphase turbulence, including atmospheric clouds, turbulent combustion, and drag reduction due to polymer additives.

His work on mechanisms of droplet breakup in turbulence was recognized with the 1997 Best Paper Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Collins has more than 100 publications from his research, and he has supervised 16 Ph.D. students during his career.

In addition to leading the Innovation Campus, Collins has a faculty appointment in Virginia Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

New members will be formally inducted in a ceremony during the National Academy of Engineering’s annual meeting on Oct. 3, bringing the organization’s total U.S. membership to 2,355.