Ishwar Kanwar Puri is an Indian-American and Canadian scientist, engineer, and academic. He is dean of the Faculty of Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He is ranked among the top 2% of scientists worldwide based on citations of their work.
Puri studied at St. Xavier’s School, Delhi from 1964-76. Thereafter, he graduated with a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Delhi College of Engineering of Delhi University, Delhi in 1982. He then completed his M.S. (1984) and Ph.D (1987) degrees in engineering science (applied mechanics) from University of California, San Diego.
Career in engineering science
Puri’s vision for McMaster Engineering has been to invest in excellence by recruiting and retaining the best talent, marshalling resources to help the faculty, staff and students fulfill their capabilities, recognizing outstanding contributions and innovations, and efficient governance and administration.
Motivated by the need to “prepare students to be flexible in a rapidly changing world and to meet challenges not yet imagined”, in 2019 he announced the most significant transformation in the sixty year history of engineering education at McMaster University through The Pivot, where design thinking, an innovation mindset and entrepreneurship are embedded in all programming. The three pillars of The Pivot are (1) changing the curriculum by seamless, project-based learning experiences, (2) reimagining the classroom by creating purpose-built studio spaces that replace lecture halls, and (3) amplifying experiential learning by offering more extracurricular and research opportunities to students.
His leadership facilitated the first McMaster MOOC, which was launched through Coursera. In partnership with the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Puri initiated the McMaster University’s – and first of its kind in Canada – Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Health Sciences Program (IBEHS) that integrates engineering and health sciences, allowing multiple career pathways for graduates in health, engineering and entrepreneurship.
The 2017 ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects ranked the Faculty’s civil engineering program 29th in the world, and metallurgical engineering, computer science and engineering, and transportation science and technology programs within the top 75 around the globe.
He established the community-engaged co-curricular experiential learning MacChangers program, which enables teams of McMaster students across disciplines to propose local solutions to the problems posed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. MacChangers, which was the first Canadian program to be part of the US National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program, has led to social innovation startups, such as for healthcare. In June 2020, during one of the first such hackathons, students successfully collaborated with members of the Hamilton, Ontario community to propose solutions to local challenges related to combatting COVID-19 in the areas of food, mobility, digital technology, and supporting local businesses.
Before he was appointed dean and professor at McMaster, he served as N. Waldo Harrison Professor and Head of the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) at Virginia Tech. He led the ESM program for nine years from 2004 through 2013.
He was a postdoctoral researcher and then an Assistant Research Engineer at the University of California, San Diego from 1987-90. In January, 1990, he was appointed as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This was converted to a tenure-track appointment as assistant professor in August, 1991. He was thereafter promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure in 1994, and the rank of Professor in 1999.
He continued to serve at UIC as Director of Graduate Studies of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering programs from 1994–97, and also 1999-2000; as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies from 2000–01, and finally as Executive Associate Dean of Engineering (2001–04). At UIC, he also served on the steering committee of the UIC Institute for Environmental Studies, and helped facilitate several of UIC’s micro- and nanotechnology initiatives.
In 2004, Puri moved to Virginia Tech to assume the position of professor and department head of engineering science and mechanics. He helped move that program into new convergences at the intersections of the life and physical sciences, and engineering mechanics, and promoted transformative scholarship, particularly through several new faculty hires in novel and interdisciplinary areas of applied mechanics. These efforts helped the department to be ranked fifth in the United States in the undergraduate engineering physics/engineering science category by U.S. News & World Report in 2012.
As department head, he played a leading role at Virginia Tech in the reoccupation of Norris Hall, where his department was housed, after the tragic shootings initiated by a mentally disturbed student.
His father was Dr. Krishan Kanwar Puri, who retired as Department Head of Chemistry at Delhi College of Engineering, Delhi, and his mother was Dr. Sushila Gaind Puri who retired as Department Head of Anesthesiology at G. B. Pant Hospital, New Delhi. The elder Dr. Puri, his father, wrote his thesis on acetin fats at the University of Münster where he received his Dr. rer. nat. degree. His mother began her career as a pioneering anesthesiologist at Lady Harding Medical College and Hospital in New Delhi.
Before marrying, his parents settled separately in Delhi in 1947 as refugees due to the partition of India. His Puri family origins lie in Ghartal village that is in Gujranwala District, now in Pakistan, and his Gaind family origins are from Pasrur in Sialkot District, also in Pakistan now.
He lives with his wife, Beth Levinson, in Ancaster, Ontario in Canada. Ms. Levinson’s Jewish roots run through San Diego, California and Brooklyn, in the United States to Eastern Europe where many of her relatives were consumed and displaced by the Holocaust. They have three children.
Together, the family has established the Ishwar K. Puri and Beth R. Levinson Scholarship that enables the education of an underprivileged girl student through grades K-12 at St. Xavier’s School, Delhi in India.