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Linda Franzoni: 2022 Alumni Distinguished Service Award
February 17, 2022
During nearly 25 years at Duke, Linda Franzoni has served in many capacities for many organizations ranging from student groups to international boards
When it came time for the Franzoni twins, Linda and Lisa, to make their choices for college, they were both of like and different minds. Both were strong in math and science and wanted a challenging academic experience, but they ended up making different decisions on where to go next.
Growing up in the south, Lisa chose to stay closer to home and attend Duke University, while Linda decided to head northeast and go to Yale University. It’s a lucky thing for Duke that Lisa chose the Blue Devils, or else the institution likely would have missed out on Linda’s 25 years of outstanding service to the school.
“I had a sort of sibling rivalry mentality going on, where the grass was always greener on the other side,” said Franzoni, a professor of the practice in the Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and associate dean of undergraduate education. “The campus was beautiful and Lisa was always talking about fun projects she was working on. It seemed like a less theoretical and more authentic experience in engineering than I was having at Yale.”
After heading west to work at the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a few years immediately following her college graduation, Franzoni and her husband decided to head back east to raise their growing family. Having grown up in Greensboro, North Carolina riding bicycles in the streets and playing in her neighborhood, Franzoni wanted the same for her children’s formative years. The crowded beaches and busy streets of Pasadena, California just didn’t have the same feel.
Thanks to that sibling rivalry mentioned earlier, Franzoni chose Duke for graduate school and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in ’88 and ’91, respectively. Earl Dowell, who was the dean of Duke Engineering at the time, was Franzoni’s thesis advisor, and her research was in the area of structural acoustics.
After a short stint as a faculty member in mechanical and aeronautical engineering at NC State, Linda returned to Duke and joined the faculty. But it didn’t take long for her to start contributing to the school in many ways outside of research.
Franzoni quickly discovered there were consequences to offering ideas. After mentioning ways that the student chapter of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers could improve, Franzoni was asked to be their advisor. Not long after, she became the advisor of the Engineering Student Government and Pi Tau Sigma, the International Honor Society for Mechanical Engineers.
“The energy that students bring to everything they do keeps you feeling young,” Franzoni said. “There’s so much flowing creativity and enthusiasm, it makes it enjoyable and rewarding to go to work each day. New students are continuously cycling through the school and they never get older, so you don’t notice that you are.”
On the school level, within a few years of her faculty appointment at Duke, Franzoni was asked to serve as a member of the Engineering Faculty Committee, where she later became the chair. In that capacity, she was invited to serve on other Duke-wide committees. Franzoni was also elected to Duke’s Academic Council and has served on the executive committee of that council. She currently serves as chair of the Duke University athletics council, where she sees some of her most important work coming in the next few years.
“With new NCAA and ACC legislation in the realm of name, image, and likeness and educational benefits, it’s a quickly changing landscape when it comes to athletics, finances and the collegiate experience,” Franzoni said. “It’s an exciting time to get involved in this area, and I think it’s work that will reenergize me in the next five years.”
Franzoni has also served in many capacities for national and international professional societies outside of Duke. She is one of five delegates to the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, where she is working to expand the group’s definition of “diversity” beyond different countries and specialties within the field. She is also working to evolve the perception of mechanical engineering from an older field focused on engines and machines to a new and exciting field that encompasses energy materials, additive manufacturing, and mechanics on the micro and nano scales.
She has also worked for the Acoustical Society of America, editing journals and organizing regional conferences. But perhaps her most significant work has come as a member of the board of ABET, the non-profit organization that accredits engineering programs.
As a byproduct of serving on so many engineering and educational organizations on a national and international level, Franzoni has been to many conferences and talked to many colleagues over the years. And it’s those conversations, she says, that tells her just how far Duke Engineering has come since she started working here.
“In graduate school, I’d go to a conference with a Duke badge on and people would be surprised to hear that Duke had an engineering school,” Franzoni said. “But now when I go to conferences, I get asked if I know different colleagues here at Duke that are well-known to others. Everywhere I go now, it seems that Duke Engineering is on the map, and that’s the biggest change I’ve seen over the years.”