After five decades as a leading researcher, professor and college dean, Ross Corotis is retiring.
His career includes stints at Northwestern and Johns Hopkins Universities, but he has spent the past 28 years in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The department’s faculty recently voted to honor him as a professor emeritus.
“I love what I do. I especially love teaching and I love research, but this is my 51st year as a professor, “Corotis said.” When I started my career as an assistant professor at Northwestern, the official retirement age was 67 and I thought, ‘Wow, he looks old.’ I’m 77 now and thought I should let the others take over. It’s best to leave when you’re still excited. “
As a child, Corotis always knew he wanted to be an engineer. Already at the age of three, he remembers having fun tinkering, putting things together and taking them apart to see how they worked. In high school, he decided on a future in civil engineering and applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“Coming from the east coast, my first choice was MIT,” Corotis said. “I was put on the waiting list, but in the end I was accepted and graduated no. 1 in the department. I’m still very proud of this because they don’t put the best potential customers on the waiting list. “
Structural probability and reliability
He would go on to pursue his masters and PhDs from MIT, all in civil engineering. His research then and now has focused on mathematical probability and structural reliability. He made important contributions to the field and was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2002, in part for his work on new methods of assessing reliability and optimizing structures.
“When I started, building codes didn’t use probabilities at all,” Corotis said. “The engineers didn’t want to know about the failure. They petitioned against the use of probability. Now people accept it. They understand that there are trade-offs in society and we need to evaluate these risks and decide how much money to invest to improve them. “
Corotis spent nine years at Northwestern before he was offered a job at Johns Hopkins University to create a civil engineering department.
“They needed civil engineering, and how many times can you go to a big university and form a department?” He said.
In 10 years, civil engineering at Johns Hopkins was the university’s second highest-scoring engineering program, behind only their famous biomedical engineering program.
Come to Colorado
In 1994, Corotis received a call from CU Boulder.
“I hadn’t thought about moving, but they said they were looking for a new principal and it was recommended, and they asked me if I was going out for an interview,” Corotis said.
He wasn’t sure. He liked his job at Johns Hopkins and he had a daughter in high school and a son in college. But her daughter encouraged him to apply, saying, “Go ahead, Dad”, and she was offered the job. At that point, his position changed.
“She was disappointed and I said to her, ‘Remember you told me to try,’ and she said, ‘Yes Dad, but I never thought you would understand,'” Corotis said.
Eventually she returned and the Corotis family moved to Colorado.
New structures and research
He joined the university as dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science and headed the college from 1994 to 2001. During that time, he pushed through changes to give the faculty more time for research.
“The campus rule was that the faculty had to run four courses a year, but we looked at major engineering schools across the country, and it was clear to me if we’d moved to where we belonged, to really be a quest. level 1 institute, we needed to give the faculty more time for research, ”Corotis said.
He reduced the faculty teaching load to three courses per year, which is still valid today.
He also spearheaded efforts to build the Gallogly Discovery Learning Center, bringing together campus officials, private donors, and the Colorado legislature to fund the building.
“It was based on the idea that when students come to a research university, they should be able to benefit from faculty research, not just classroom teaching,” Corotis said. “The concept of learning by discovery is a special opportunity in a large research university. When we went to the legislature, they were so enthusiastic that they allocated the money for the program plan and construction in one vote. They hadn’t done that in modern history. Generally it will take two years ”.
In 2001, Corotis stepped down as principal and resumed teaching and research in civil engineering. Since then he has presented 65 conference proceedings, published 41 journal articles and led six fellowships, graduating 12 masters and five PhD students.
In 2006, he received the Boulder Faculty Assembly Excellence in Teaching and Pedagogy Award for his work in teaching and mentoring students, and in 2019, he won the American Society of Civil Engineers’ OPAL Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Education.
Keith Molenaar, acting dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at CU Boulder, praised Corotis’ work as an educator and engineer.
“Ross Corotis has been a leader his entire career, not just for the University of Colorado Boulder, but for our profession and our nation,” Molenaar said. His research advanced concepts of structural safety and reliability and our understanding of probabilistic concepts and decision perceptions for society’s trade-offs for risks and built infrastructure. Ross has been an inspiration for our college and our profession.
Engineer for life
Although Corotis is taking a step back from university, he is still busy with engineering. In addition to continuing to do advisory duties with a doctoral student, he is conducting a review of the capital structures of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is chairman of a congressional-established committee that evaluates building failures.
“The committee has just started on the collapse of the Champlain Towers condominium in Florida,” he said. “After 9/11, Congress created the National Construction Safety Team Act to investigate major structural failures to determine what went wrong and what we can do better.”
Corotis is also eager to spend more time traveling with his wife, to visit family and explore new places.
“We love to travel,” he said. “I’ve always been envious of people who could go on vacation in September. It’s after the summer run and before it gets cold. Covid has interfered, but we’ll see “.