Center for Business Ingenuity
Gannon University announces the appointment of Karinna M. Vernaza, Ph.D., as Dean of the College of Engineering and Business (CEB), and Susantha Herath, Ph.D., as Associate Dean and Director of the School of Engineering and Computing.
Vice President of Academic Affairs, Walter Iwanenko, Jr., Ph.D., praised Vernaza and Herath as visionary leaders for the College.
“We are grateful to Dr. Vernaza for her continued service and commitment to Gannon University, our faculty and our students,” said Iwanenko. “We are excited by both her decision to continue to serve as Dean, as well as to welcome Dr. Herath to join her in leading the College as Associate Dean of the School of Engineering and Computing to propel our engineering and computer-based programs forward,” said Iwanenko.
Vernaza has served as the College’s interim dean since January 2017. After earning a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2001 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 2003 from the University of Notre Dame, Vernazza joined Gannon University in 2003 as an assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering. She was awarded tenure and advancement in rank to associate professor in 2009 and advanced to full professor in 2014.
Dr. Vernaza’s advancement to this position is a great opportunity for Gannon to secure strategic leadership within the team, while also providing Dr. Vernaza the opportunity to take the next step in furthering her professional career.
Vernaza has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications centering on high-strain deformation of materials and engineering education. Her primary teaching responsibilities have been in the areas of solid mechanics, materials and first-year experience in engineering. Recently, she has focused on systemic strategies for the retention and advancement of STEM faculty and students, and academic interventions to improve student success. She is currently the Principal Investigator of a $1 million dollar National Science Foundation S-STEM award (2017-21), and she has secured over $2.5 million in grants during her tenure at Gannon University.
Beyond her service to Gannon, Vernaza is active in the Erie community, serving on the board of directors for The Nonprofit Partnership, as an Erie Ambassador and in several advisory boards. She volunteers through the Society of Women Engineers, as a mentor for young women in partnership with the Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, and as a reviewer for the National Science Foundation and the American Society of Engineering Education. She is serving a two-year term as the Chair of the American Society for Engineering Education North Central Section.
“I am honored to serve and lead as Dean of the College of Engineering and Business,” said Vernaza. “I look forward to continuing to work alongside our faculty, students and community partners to advance academic and professional success, and drive innovation and impact on the economic development of our region through our College’s collaboration and service in the community.”
Vernaza will work closely with Dr. Herath as well as Amy Doolan, DBA, to lead the College of Engineering and Business. Dr. Herath will now join Dr. Doolan as an associate dean of the College. Dr. Doolan has served in this role since Fall 2018 leading the internal operation of the Erie Technology Incubator (ETI). This role includes her oversight of Gannon’s integrated collaboration between its Dahlkemper School of Business and ETI, working alongside the Innovation Beehive Network and Small Business Development Center at Gannon University.
Herath joins Gannon University after working 18 years at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in Minnesota. He held a wide range of administrative and academic responsibilities at the University, including Chair of the Information Systems Department since 2009.
Herath brings 29 years of college teaching and over 10 years of leadership in industry and government to his position at Gannon. He has published 90 peer-reviewed articles, over 50 research presentations, and has received over $4 million in federal funding as Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI from organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition to his position at SCSU, Herath has held teaching and research positions at various institutions in Japan, as well as government and civic positions in Japan and Sri Lanka.
Herath’s primary teaching and research interests in secure systems, network security, natural language processing, neural and artificial intelligence align with CEB and Gannon University’s vision for its new programs in cybersecurity and cyber engineering, as well as its Institute for Health and Cyber Knowledge (I-HACK). Herath has been instrumental in his position at SCSU in building and growing enrollment in its cyber programs to become the largest in the University. Gannon is excited for Herath to bring that expertise to its new initiatives in the cyber industry as a valuable asset in growing Gannon’s future in this emerging field.
“I am inspired by Gannon University’s vision for the future of its academic programs, commitment to its students and the institution’s involvement in the development of its surrounding region,” said Herath. “I look forward to being a part of implementing that vision and expanding Gannon’s engineering and computer science programs both regionally and globally to create new educational and research opportunities for students and faculty.”