Jennifer Sinclair Curtis Is AIChE’s 2023 Margaret H. Rousseau Pioneer Award Recipient

The Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement by a Woman Chemical Engineer is given to a member of AIChE who has made significant contributions to chemical engineering, and who has paved the way for women to have a greater impact on the profession.

The award is sponsored by Pfizer and is named for Margaret Hutchinson Rousseau, the first woman member of AIChE and a pioneer who designed the first commercial plant for deep-tank penicillin fermentation during World War II. 

This year, AIChE will present the Rousseau Pioneer Award to Dr. Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and former Dean of Engineering at the University of California, Davis. She is being honored for her pioneering work in particle technology, particle-laden flows, and industrially used algorithms for dilute and dense-phase gas-solid flow – as well as for her international leadership in education, diversity, and inclusivity in the engineering profession.

Dr. Curtis and the other Institute and Board of Directors’ Award honorees will receive their prizes at the 2023 AIChE Annual Meeting, November 5–10 in Orlando, Florida.

Given the profound effect that mentoring has had on my own career, I have tried to support students and faculty as they have addressed their own career and life options.

About Dr. Curtis and her work

A chemical engineering alumnus of Purdue University and Princeton University — where she received her BS and PhD, respectively — Jennifer Sinclair Curtis is a leader in particle technology research, with her work making an impact on the pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mining, and food processing industries, among others. Her particle flow models have been broadly adopted by commercial and open source computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software packages, while her partnership with ANSYS Fluent greatly expanded the multiphase simulation capability of the code that is used by most of the largest industrial companies. 

Curtis is also being celebrated as an influential chemical engineering educator and mentor — in particular for her support of women’s integration into the profession and as a spokesperson for greater diversity in engineering. 

During her five years as Dean of UC Davis’s College of Engineering — which she joined in 2015 after holding professorships at the University of Florida and Purdue University — Curtis led the school to numerous milestones in equity, diversity, and inclusion. These efforts resulted in UC Davis being place first among the top 50-ranked U.S. colleges of engineering in percentage of women faculty. Curtis presented a summary of engineering recruitment and retention initiatives for women engineers in a 2017 Scientific American article, “Sowing the Seeds of Diversity in Engineering.”

The value of mentorship

Curtis acknowledges the value of the mentorship that she received in her own professional progress, and how it helped her to clarify her career priorities. These mentors, she says, “supported me both personally and professionally in countless ways. Given the profound effect that mentoring has had on my own career, I have tried to support students and faculty as they have addressed their own career and life options.”

She says that her personal story — including having a daughter while in graduate school and having her first husband pass away at a young age — might be factors that encourage her students to open up to her about their own lives and visions for the future. She adds that her Christian faith has also led to open-hearted conversations with students and colleagues that may not have otherwise occurred.

Involvement with AIChE

In reflecting on the role of AIChE in her life, Curtis says that her involvement in AIChE “offered leadership opportunities that accelerated my personal and professional growth.” Over her career, she has given back to the Institute through her volunteer leadership roles on AIChE committees, in the Particle Technology Forum, as an associate editor of AIChE Journal, and as a Board director. 

“I encourage others — whether in industry, government, or academia, no matter their career stage — to avail themselves of the many professional and personal growth opportunities that arise from engaging with AIChE and other professional societies,” adds Curtis.    

A Fellow of AIChE, Curtis is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society for Engineering Education. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, she co-chairs the National Academies’ Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology and she is Vice Chair of the AIChE Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

This fall, ChEnected is presenting profiles of all the 2023 Institute and Board of Directors’ Award recipients. Visit ChEnected regularly to meet this year’s honorees.