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Wentworth gets 1st woman chief

Engineering dean from Texas chosen

A month after MIT inaugurated its first woman president, trustees at another local center of technical study, Wentworth Institute of Technology, will announce today that they have hired Zorica Pantic-Tanner, an electrical engineer, to be the first woman president in the 100-year history of the small, four-year college.

Pantic-Tanner, 54, comes to Wentworth from the University of Texas at San Antonio's College of Engineering, of which she was the founding dean. She is a native of the former Yugoslavia, where she earned three degrees in electrical engineering, including a doctorate.

Previously the director of the School of Engineering at San Francisco State University, she has 30 years of experience in teaching and academic administration and will be the first female engineer to lead a US institute of technology, according to Wentworth officials.

The new president, who said yesterday she plans to start work in August, will replace John Van Domelen, who is retiring. Wentworth's president for the past 15 years, Van Domelen helped transform the former Fenway commuter school into a residential four-year campus with 3,000 students from 33 states and 28 countries.

The school's evolution, which has brought a stronger architecture program and expanded internship offerings for students, will continue under new leadership, board of trustees chairman William Whelan said yesterday. He said the institute will extend its reach into new areas, including more theoretical study of the sciences and more research.

''The new president understands where we are and where we've been, but she also understands we need to do more in traditional engineering," he said. ''She's a doer, with quiet confidence and vision, and she's someone who can take Wentworth to the next level."

An initial pool of about 170 candidates for the presidency was narrowed to 12 semifinalists, then five finalists, he said. Pantic-Tanner was the only female finalist, but her gender was not a factor in her selection, Whelan said. An internal candidate, Wentworth provost George Balich, also competed for the job, he said.

In Boston yesterday for meetings with Wentworth trustees and professors and presidents of other Fenway colleges, Pantic-Tanner said she decided to become an engineer at age 6, after watching her father build a radio while working toward his engineering degree.

Under her leadership, the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio started three new doctorate programs, doubled the size of its faculty, and increased research funding tenfold, to $7 million. She said she also helped increase women's enrollment in the engineering college by 83 percent, to about 15 percent of the total student body, by working closely with local high schools to educate female students and their families about career opportunities in the field.

About 20 percent of students at Wentworth are women, close to the national average, ''but it needs to go much higher," she said.

Susan Hockfield, a neurobiologist and former Yale University provost, became MIT's first woman president last summer.

Last winter, Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University, set off a national debate about women in science after he spoke about the possibility of innate differences in abilities between the genders.

Pantic-Tanner said yesterday that she does not believe such differences exist, but that the controversy ''helped [move] the issue, by bringing it from the back burner to the front."

''Maybe we need to thank [Summers] for that," she said.

Jenna Russell can be reached at

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