Robert Canfield, professor and assistant department head for academic affairs in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, has assumed the role of interim department head. Canfield will be filling the vacancy left by Eric Paterson, who has been appointed director of Virginia Tech’s National Security Institute

“I greatly appreciate the confidence expressed by my fellow faculty members and staff and their offers of support,” Canfield said. “I look forward to an exciting year of education and new opportunities for our students, and we will continue to move the program in a positive direction.”

In 2008, Canfield joined the Virginia Tech aerospace and ocean engineering program as a professor. In addition to serving as the assistant department head for academic affairs, he is an active member of the program’s structures group. He is technical director of the Virginia Tech Airworthiness Center, a long-term collaborative partnership with the Naval Air Systems Command.

Canfield graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University, and was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force in 1983. He earned his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University in 1984, and his doctoral degree in engineering mechanics at Virginia Tech in 1992. Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community, Canfield worked in the Air Force for 24 years.

Canfield began his academic career as an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1993. Subsequently, from 1996 to 1998, he served as the chief of plans and budget for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), managing the Air Force’s $300 million investment strategy for basic research. 

In 1997, Canfield briefly worked for the deputy assistant secretary for science, technology, and engineering as a planning and resources manager for the $1.2 billion Air Force science and technology budget. From June 1998 to May 1999, he served as the director of policy and integration for AFOSR. 

In 2000, he became an associate professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology and taught there until joining Virginia Tech in 2008. During this period, Canfield served as the deputy head of aeronautics and astronautics from 2002 to 2004.

At Virginia Tech, Canfield leads an exciting research program in the field of advanced aircraft design, focusing on structural optimization, multidisciplinary analysis and design, airworthiness, reliability-based design, structural dynamics, and aeroelasticity. His portfolio has more than $5.8 million in research funding to date. 

Canfield previously served as interim department head for the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering a decade ago, during the national search that resulted in the appointment of his predecessor, Eric Paterson.

“Canfield is a natural choice to lead the department during this transition,” said Paterson. “He has an exemplary record of academic and technical leadership as well as service. He is well respected by faculty, staff, and students alike.”

Paterson joined the College of Engineering in 2012, and during his nine years as department head presided over significant and unprecedented growth in the aerospace and ocean engineering department. Currently one of the fastest growing departments in the College of Engineering in terms of student demand and enrollment, the Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Program has witnessed rapid growth in number of faculty, research expenditures and funding. He has also expanded existing research and instructional facilities and created a number of new ones over the past decade.

Under Paterson’s leadership in 2016, the department also became the first named and endowed aerospace engineering or ocean engineering department in the world, because of a generous $15 million commitment from 1982 alumnus Kevin T. Crofton.

Throughout his career at Virginia Tech, Paterson often worked directly with students, teaching both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses and prioritizing experiential learning through expansion of hands-on facilities and research laboratory spaces and support of student design teams. He also served as a voice for those underrepresented at Virginia Tech, and was committed to the advancement of diversity and fostering equity and inclusion within the department. 

“Eric’s strategic vision and leadership have had an enormous impact on our department through unprecedented growth, curriculum revision, increased research activity, and expansion of space and ocean engineering research, especially. His influence will positively impact students for years to come,” said Canfield. “We wish him well as he moves onto his new leadership position.”

Canfield is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Among his honors and awards, he has received the AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Award for Technical Excellence in 2014, the AIAA Sustained Service Award in 2007, the AIAA Distinguished Service Award 2003-2005, the 2004 Outstanding Engineers and Scientists Award, the Gage H. Crocker Outstanding Professor Award in 2004, the Dr. Leslie M. Norton Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005, as well as numerous awards from the Air Force.

He has published 59 journal articles, 117 conference papers, and co-authored a textbook on Reliability-Based Structural Design.

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