Sarah Springman to become Rector of ETH Zurich

11.07.2014 | News

By:  Franziska Schmid

The ETH Board confirmed today that Sarah Springman, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, is to become the new Rector of ETH Zurich. Alongside Lino Guzzella, who will move from the office of Rector to the Presidency, Springman will help shape the future of ETH Zurich as part of the Executive Board from January 2015.

Sarah Springman  
Sarah Springman - the future Rector of ETH Zurich.(Bild: Oliver Bartenschlager / ETH Zürich)

Sarah Springman (57) has been a full ETH Professor of Geotechnical Engineering since 1997. As the new Rector, Springman will head the teaching area and will be in charge of admission to courses at all levels, in addition to organising and managing study-related matters, including the examination process. The newly elected Rector is particularly enthusiastic about teaching: “Switzerland needs well-educated, skilled professionals more than ever. Teaching is one of the pillars of ETH Zurich, and as a university, we bear a special responsibility in that area. I intend to do my part to ensure that ETH maintains and even improves the quality of the education it offers.”

«I intend to do my part to ensure that ETH maintains and even improves the quality of the education it offers.» Sarah Springman, Designated Rector

Second female Rector at ETH

Sarah Springman (Bild: Oliver Bartenschlager / ETH Zürich)

Springman is the second woman to hold the office of Rector after Heidi Wunderli-Allenspach. Associate Vice President Equal Opportunities Renate Schubert is pleased that a woman will once again join the Executive Board: “The fact that ETH Zurich has elected Sarah Springman as its new Rector shows that our university isn’t afraid to go against stereotypes. Sarah Springman will strengthen the diversity of our Executive Board, which should yield a variety of benefits. This will also send a signal to other areas, in particular research and teaching, that differing perspectives are a source of enrichment and can lead to foster success.”

As a Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, Springman teaches and researches in a field regarded typically as a male domain: “I know from personal experience that young women in research often face significant hurdles. My task as Rector will be to provide all promising talent – men and women alike – with a good start to their academic careers.”

After more than 20 years, the civil engineer, a member of today's Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (D-BAUG), be represented on the Executive Board, which pleases department head Professor Ulrich Weidmann: “In my 10 years in the department, I have come to know Sarah Springman as a resolute and exacting colleague, but also as someone who looks for practical solutions. She places great importance on quality and rigorous thinking, while still respecting precedents. Her opinions are always highly regarded among her fellow faculty members. And her unmistakable British humour ultimately lets her to tackle touchy issues while keeping even critical colleagues smiling.”

“My task as Rector will be to provide all promising talent – men and women alike – with a good start to their academic careers.” Sarah Springman, Designated Rector

Recognition beyond departmental borders

The esteem in which Springman is held at ETH extends well beyond her own department, which was demonstrated through her nomination at the Professors’ Conference in May. More than two thirds of the 606 professors took part in the nomination vote, and the majority gave their votes to the Professor of geotechnical engineering. Felicitas Pauss, President of the Lecturers’ Conference (KdL), had this to say: “Sarah Springman impressed my colleagues with her personality and her outstanding accomplishments in both teaching and research. I am personally looking forward to working closely with Sarah in the KdL.”

About Sarah Springman

Sarah Marcella Springman was born in London in 1956 and studied engineering sciences at Cambridge University. After university, she went into the private sector and worked for five years as an engineer on various geotechnical projects in England, Fiji and Australia. She then resumed her academic career at Cambridge, earning her master’s and doctoral degrees. Springman has been full professor of geotechnical engineering at ETH Zurich since 1997. As a pioneer in the field of geotechnical modelling of soil structure interactions and a recognised expert in the study of geotechnical aspects of natural hazards, Springman is extremely well connected internationally. She headed the Institute for Geotechnical Engineering for several years, and is a former member of the Swiss Science and Technology Council (2000–2008) and the ETH Planning Commission. She also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath.

In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Springman has also achieved major sporting success. She was an active rower, squash player and triathlete at the highest level, winning 20 medals in European triathlon championships. She participated in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii on five occasions and placed fifth in the event in 1985 and 1987. In 2012, she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her contributions to sport.

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