Donald M. Bolle, who served as dean of engineering and filled several other leadership roles during a 14-year career with Lehigh, died Oct. 24 at his home in Coopersburg, Pa. He was 84 years old.
Born in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, Bolle joined the Lehigh faculty in 1980 as chairman of the department of electrical engineering. One year later, he became dean of what was then called the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, a position he held until 1988.
Bolle left Lehigh that year to become provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at The Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He returned to Lehigh in 1999 to assume the position of vice provost of information resources. He later served as interim chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering and as adjunct professor before retiring in 2005.
Bolle’s colleagues remember him as a gracious and thoughtful man and as an energetic, visionary leader who promoted the interests of faculty and staff members. During his tenure as engineering dean, he actively supported the university’s purchase of the Mountaintop Campus in 1986, the creation of new research centers, and the movement of the chemistry and physics departments from the engineering college into the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Don was a very important member of my team at Lehigh, always thoughtful in his opinions and articulate in his expression of views strongly held,” said Peter Likins, who served as president of Lehigh from 1982 to 1997.
“The quality of Don’s education was apparent in the range of his knowledge and the grace with which he could discuss issues well beyond the customary domain of the engineering world. He was an engaging personality; I can hear his chuckle as I resurrect our team meetings in my mind.”
“Don Bolle was a loyal friend, a great scholar and an academic leader who always placed Lehigh’s interest above everything else,” said Mohamed El-Aasser, professor of chemical engineering and former university provost and engineering dean. “Above all he was a wonderful human being with a superb character and a good sense of humor. He will truly be missed.”
El-Aasser recalled a meeting in 1987 when he made a proposal to Bolle and other senior leaders that Lehigh create an interdisciplinary Center for Polymer Science and Engineering (CPSE) with M.S. and Ph.D. programs.
“I described the center’s educational programs and research themes, the contributions of 40-plus faculty members from five departments, and our plans for submitting a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the area of polymer interfaces,” said El-Aasser said.
“At the end of my presentation, Don was the first to speak. He looked at the other participants in the meeting and said, ‘This is a great interdisciplinary academic initiative. Let’s get out of Mohamed’s way and let him follow his passion.’
“Then he looked at me and said, ‘The meeting is over.’ I was pleasantly surprised and asked, ‘Is this it? Where do we go from here?’ His response was, ‘The center that you and your colleagues want will officially be approved, so let’s move on.’” Four years later, the CPSE secured NSF funding to create Lehigh’s Industry University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) for Polymer Interfaces.
Svetlana Tatic-Lucic, associate dean for faculty development in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, called Bolle “a born leader who exuded self-confidence. He had no difficulty making a decision, and he usually made the right one. He was very supportive of professors.”
Tatic-Lucic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who served recently as interim chair of her department, was one of the first female faculty members appointed to the electrical and computer engineering department.
“Don was extremely supportive of our careers,” she said. “He was the first person to point out the leadership qualities we had. He was really good at promoting and developing the careers of the junior faculty. He was always interested in the well-being of all the members of the faculty. He helped me with advice when I became interim chair. I valued his opinion, and I admired him a lot as a person.”
Yong W. Kim, professor of physics and former chair of the department, said Bolle offered unwavering support when the physics department expanded its faculty base and made major capital improvements in the 1980s.
“Don was an unambiguous friend of the physics department,” said Kim. “He had a clear vision for Lehigh as a nationally ranked research university, and he had high hopes for physics. A consummate gentleman, he patiently championed our call for physics development.”
W. Beall Fowler, professor emeritus of physics, former department chair and former interim dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed Kim’s comments.
“Don Bolle really wanted to do things to move Lehigh forward,” said Fowler. “He and Peter Likins were two very energetic people, and they collaborated on some important projects. Don was very focused on improving things. He really wanted us to live up to our potential.”
Michelle Sheehan, executive secretary to the dean of engineering, joined the staff in 1987 and began working for Bolle.
“I was 19 then, and this was my first job,” said Sheehan. “The fondest memory I have of Don came a year later, when he was leaving Lehigh. We knew he was a chocaholic, so we got him a huge chocolate cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles. We put the leftover cake in the refrigerator. The next day, he walked out of his office, with his sleeves rolled up and a knife in his hand and said, “Who wants chocolate cake?
“Don was just so kind to everybody, faculty and staff, and he always had such a warm smile.”
Bolle earned his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D., both in electrical engineering, from Kings College in England and Purdue University respectively.
Before joining the Lehigh faculty, Bolle was a research engineer with Electrical Musical Instruments in Middlesex, England, a professor at Purdue from 1956 to 1962, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in applied mathematics and theoretical physics the following year at Cambridge University, and a professor at Brown University from 1963 to 1980.
Bolle served as provost at The Polytechnic University from 1988 to 1999.
A Life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Bolle received the IEEE Centennial Medal, the IEEE Council on Oceanic Engineering Distinguished Services Award and the IEEE Millennium Medal. He was the founding editor and former editor in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Ocean Engineering.
In his spare time, Bolle played golf and enjoyed watercolor painting and wood working.