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Dr. Liesl Folks, Vice President for Semiconductor Strategy at the University of Arizona, Highlights Moments From Her Career Thus Far

Michigan, US, 21st June 2024, ZEX PR WIRE, Dr. Liesl Folks has had an illustrious career that spans academia and industry, making significant contributions to both fields. Currently serving as the Vice President for Semiconductor Strategy at the University of Arizona, Dr. Folks is also a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In her current role, she guides the institution’s strategic response to the CHIPS Act and the burgeoning semiconductor sector in Arizona and across the nation. This includes managing growth in enrollment and research expenditures and building resilient global partnerships with sector leaders.

Between 2019 and 2023, Dr. Folks served as the Provost at the University of Arizona, where she led substantial growth in on-campus and online student enrollment. Her tenure saw a significant expansion in research activities and an increase in the diversity of faculty, staff, and students. She also launched two new academic colleges and was a leader in expanding interdisciplinary research aimed at tackling major social and global challenges. Dr. Folks implemented evidence-based strategies to improve student outcomes, making a lasting impact on the institution.

Dr. Folks holds a BSc with honors and a PhD in Physics from The University of Western Australia, as well as an MBA from Cornell University. Her academic background is complemented by her extensive experience in the industry, particularly in nanotechnology research and development. Before joining the University at Buffalo in 2012 as the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, she spent 16 years in Silicon Valley working for giants like IBM Almaden Research Center, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, and Western Digital. Her R&D accomplishments include key contributions to the fields of nanoscale magnetic metrology, bit-patterned media, microwave-assisted magnetic recording, helium-sealed drives, spin-transfer-torque sensors, and Hall cross sensors.

An internationally recognized expert in magnetic materials and devices, nanoscale metrology, and spin-electronic devices, Dr. Folks holds 12 U.S. patents and is the author of more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, which have garnered over 13,300 citations. She is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and has long been a mentor to women and under-represented groups in STEM. She was a co-author of the ASEE’s Deans Diversity Statement, which was announced by President Obama in 2015 and has been signed by more than 200 engineering deans. Dr. Folks has led salary equity reviews for faculty, introduced minimum stipends for graduate student researchers, and advanced numerous measures to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion for faculty, staff, and students.

Dr. Folks has also been a strong supporter of professional technical societies. She was the first female President of the IEEE Magnetics Society from 2013 to 2014 and has served on the Strategic Planning Committee for the IEEE Technical Activities Board. As a national leader on issues of science and technology policy for economic security and defense, she chaired the 2020 congressionally-mandated NASEM Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Currently, she serves as the NASEM Committee Chair for the panel on Global Microelectronics and is on the congressionally approved Advisory Board for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

In her role at the University of Arizona, Dr. Folks has secured over $42 million in external grants to support semiconductor R&D and related workforce needs. She is leading efforts to capture CHIPS and Science Act 2022 funding streams and to grow related enrollments. She has instituted an external partner relationship management system to efficiently respond to opportunities for industry partnerships, defense, and government-sponsored research. Dr. Folks has attracted global partners to establish new technology centers on campus and has coordinated efforts across multiple colleges to amplify the university’s institutional impacts in response to commercial and national security needs related to semiconductor and photonics technologies.

Dr. Folks is also focused on infrastructure modernization, leading the upgrade of existing nanofabrication cleanroom facilities and facilitating the development of an undergraduate nanotechnology laboratory. She is developing novel curriculum offerings for diverse students at all career stages wishing to enter the semiconductor workforce. These efforts include close partnerships with sister universities, local community colleges, and high schools to ensure efficiency and reduce duplicative efforts.

Throughout her career, Dr. Folks has demonstrated a strong commitment to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has introduced measures to materially increase these values among faculty, staff, and students. Her leadership in both academia and industry, combined with her extensive research and development experience, makes her a pivotal figure in the field of semiconductor strategy and innovation. Dr. Liesl Folks continues to inspire and lead, ensuring that the University of Arizona remains at the forefront of technological advancement and educational excellence.

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