Bruce Dunn
Q&A with Interim Dean Bruce Dunn

Bruce Dunn — UCLA Samueli’s Nippon Sheet Glass Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and previously the school’s associate dean for research and physical resources — has agreed to serve as interim dean of UCLA Samueli. He assumed the role on August 1 and will serve for one year as the school completes a nationwide search for the next permanent dean. Prior to assuming the role of associate dean for research and physical resources, Dunn served as chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department from 2018 to 2021. As chair, he spearheaded the effort to recruit excellent new faculty, acquire important resources and maintain the department’s outstanding educational and research programs during the pandemic. Learn more about Interim Dean Dunn in our exclusive Q&A.

“Giving back can be expressed in numerous ways — from taking on administrative responsibilities to reaching out to the community on behalf of the university to monetary gifts. ”

Q: You are a UCLA engineering alum yourself and have been a faculty member at the school since 1980. How did you get started in STEM higher education? What makes UCLA so special?
I grew up in the 1960s in Chicago and attended a public school. There was no STEM education at the time, but I enjoyed math and science and decided to major in engineering because of its focus on solving problems. Throughout my academic career, I have been fortunate to have incredible teachers and mentors who guided and showed me the endless possibilities of engineering.

In my Ph.D. program at UCLA, I was very lucky to have a terrific advisor in John “Doug” MacKenize. Doug gave you the flexibility you needed to create and even fail so you could learn from your mistakes. He encouraged this streak of independence in all his students because independence is how people grow in an educational environment.

When I finished my Ph.D., I first went to work in industry for a few years. I joined General Electric (GE) during the height of the energy crisis. GE was pursuing a wide range of energy-related projects so I had the freedom and flexibility to figure out what I wanted to spend my time pursuing. I had incredible mentors at GE who helped me realize that the future of industrial research wasn’t quite the life that I wanted.

When I had the opportunity to come back to UCLA, I knew that it would be the perfect place for me to continue my career. In addition to enjoying teaching and interacting with students, I also wanted to pursue my research interests. Science and technology were expanding in a number of disciplines, but especially in materials science. It was a terrific time to be at UCLA. You could readily interact with anyone you wanted to on campus and pursue independent research.

Over the years, it has been a true pleasure to witness the school’s continuing growth into a world-renowned institution. The multiple leadership positions I’ve been able to take on, most recently as the associate dean for research and physical resources, and prior to that, as chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, have only further reinforced that I am inspired by teaching and academia.

Q: You made your first gift to UCLA Samueli in 1986, and have been a very loyal Boelter Society leadership donor. What inspires you to give back?
Early on, I was taught that you must give back to your institution. My philanthropy has been inspired by one of my mentors, Ray Orbach. Ray was a world-renowned professor of physics, who later became the Provost at UCLA and the Chancellor at UC Riverside. After that, he became the Director of the Office of Science and then the Undersecretary for Science at the Department of Energy. Through it all, he maintained his scientific excellence. I remember very clearly being at a conference with him where he told me, “You have to give back to the institution. That’s how the institution gets stronger — when the good people give of themselves.”

Giving back can be expressed in numerous ways — from taking on administrative responsibilities to reaching out to the community on behalf of the university to monetary gifts. I support the Material Science and Engineering Department because I know that the department simply needs resources that are flexible. Sometimes departments need to buy supplies for classes, for example, or help with funding for a graduate student researcher or teaching assistant position. Since we don’t have huge budgets, flexible funds truly help department leaders make ends meet.

Q: How do you hope to continue to move forward the school’s priorities in the coming year?
Due to the splendid work of former Dean Jayathi Murthy, I am in the fortunate position of being able to continue our current direction. We are already on such a great trajectory. From increasing our faculty to the growth of our self-supporting programs, our foundation as an educational institution is strong. I also feel incredibly lucky that we have a talented and experienced group of administrative leaders. My goal is to continue and even increase the momentum generated in the school by leveraging the outstanding work that has been done up to this point.

I want to assure you that despite the school’s transition, all of our faculty and staff will continue to maintain the excellence that makes UCLA Samueli one of the best places in the world for those who wish to pursue a career in engineering and computer science. And we could not have done this without your steadfast support and generous contributions.