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James W. Wagner
When the Emory University Board of Trustees announced on July 30, 2003, the appointment of Emory's nineteenth president, it took some hearers a moment to register that the new president was an engineer. James W. Wagner, an award-winning teacher and scientist, earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1975 from the University of Delaware and a master's degree in clinical engineering in 1978 from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 1984, he completed his Ph.D. degree in materials science and engineering from Johns Hopkins.
While the absence of an engineering program at Emory might have made an engineer a curious pick for the University's presidency, the choice of Jim Wagner in particular made sense on many levels. Before assuming office on September 1, 2003, he had served as dean, provost, and interim president of Case Western Reserve University, following a distinguished tenure on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University. He thus knew the academy intimately at every level.
Throughout his administrative career, Dr. Wagner has worked closely with faculty, students, alumni, and staff to enhance the undergraduate educational experience, grow research, and foster more effective partnership between the academy and local institutions, including government and industry. Out of a firm devotion to the ancient university mission of liberal education-which he defines as mastering a discipline and developing a thirst for new knowledge-Dr. Wagner has been able to forge collaborations among a diverse array of schools and programs, ranging from the arts and sciences to the professional schools. He also has had significant experience in raising funds from private philanthropic sources. All of these notes resonated with the priorities of the institution in 2003.
As one of his first steps, President Wagner set in motion a campus-wide initiative to develop a clear vision statement intended to serve as the polestar for Emory's development over the next decade. Having achieved widespread and deep participation in this effort, he searched for and appointed a new provost and a new senior vice president for development and University relations to complete his leadership team. With those persons in place, the University launched a year-long strategic-planning process to serve as the basis for a comprehensive financial campaign, which began in September 2005 and was announced publicly in September 2008.
Along the way, President Wagner has won high marks for rolling up his sleeves and engaging very deeply with faculty, staff, and students-occasionally rehearsing with student a capella groups (he's a former barbershop singer himself), meeting regularly with faculty leadership and departments, and winning approval for his openness to the concerns of faculty and staff.
Reviving an Emory tradition, President Wagner has delivered the address at each of the baccalaureate services for graduating seniors since his arrival at Emory. An elder in the Presbyterian church (in which his wife, Debbie, is a seasoned professional Christian educator), he has found particularly attractive Emory's blend of rigorous intellectual inquiry and ethical engagement.
Dr. Wagner has authored more than 115 publications and has served as editor or editorial board member for several serial publications. His research interests and activities have stemmed in part from his early employment with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where he developed quality-assurance methods and performed failure analyses on medical devices. At Johns Hopkins his research focused on optical and microwave methods for sensing strains and displacements in materials and structures.
Dr. and Mrs. Wagner have two grown daughters, Kimberly and Christine. Dr. Wagner's avocational interests include restoring antique cars, sailing, and metal shop-work.