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UD Electrical Engineering Alumnus Named to National Bioethics Commission

Dec. 8, 2009

James W. Wagner, a 1975 graduate of the University of Delaware, has been named vice chair of President Barack Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The appointment was announced with the establishment of the commission by an executive order Nov. 24.

Wagner, who earned his bachelor's degree at UD in electrical engineering, has been president of Emory University since 2003. An elder in the Presbyterian Church, he holds a master's degree in clinical engineering and a doctorate in materials science and engineering, both from Johns Hopkins University.

Wagner is credited with championing the role of ethics in Emory's mission by significantly enhancing the prominence of the university's interdisciplinary Center for Ethics and by incorporating ethical engagement as a key element in Emory's strategic vision.

Amy Guttman, a political scientist who has served as president of the University of Pennsylvania since 2004, has been appointed chair of the commission.

“As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it's imperative that we do so in a responsible manner,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House with the executive order. “I am confident that Amy and Jim will use their decades of experience in both ethics and science to guide the new commission in this work, and I look forward to listening to their recommendations in the coming months and years.”

“Jim Wagner's appointment to President Obama's bioethics commission demonstrates that a degree in engineering can lead in many directions,” says Michael Chajes, dean of the UD College of Engineering. “It is a testament to his experience and perspective that, as an engineer, he served as president of Emory, which does not have an engineering program. He is also known for developing a very forward-looking vision for the Case School of Engineering, where he served as dean for two years -- a vision that focused on fundamentals, creativity, societal awareness, leadership skills, and professionalism. He obviously brings tremendous credentials to his new position.”

The bioethics commission has been charged with examining a number of issues, including the creation of stem cells by novel means; intellectual property issues involving genetic sequencing, biomarkers and other screening tests used for risk assessment; and the application of neuro- and robotic sciences.

The group will also address broader issues such as the protection of human research participants, scientific integrity and conflicts of interest in research, and the intersection of science and human rights.

Prior to his appointment as president of Emory, Wagner had served as dean, provost, and interim president at Case Western Reserve University. He spent the first ten years of his career at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where he developed quality-assurance methods and performed failure analyses on medical devices. He then joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins, where his research focused on the nondestructive evaluation and characterization of materials and structures.

Wagner has authored more than 115 professional publications. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering and the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association in 2007 and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. He also won several teaching awards at Hopkins, including the 1994 George E. Owen Award for excellence in teaching and dedication to undergraduates.

Article by Diane Kukich

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