Kray Luxbacher has been appointed head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering in the College of Engineering, effective May 10, 2020.

Luxbacher is the C.T. Holland Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering and has been a member of its faculty since 2008. She formerly served as the Associate Director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, and since 2016 she has served as associate department head.

“I am thrilled to have Dr. Luxbacher at the helm of Mining and Minerals Engineering,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “Her deep knowledge of the discipline, department and Virginia Tech will enable both visionary leadership as well as stability during these uncertain times. We welcome Dr. Luxbacher to the college leadership team.”

Luxbacher joined the department as an assistant professor in 2008 after working in professional positions in both the mining industry and academia. She has gained an international reputation as one of the leading experts in the area of underground mine ventilation, with specialized expertise in atmospheric monitoring, ventilation system characterization, mine fire simulation and prevention, and mine risk analysis.

Luxbacher is highly regarded by her colleagues and students for her ongoing contributions to teaching and advising. She has led efforts to transition the mining engineering curriculum toward a leadership-based program, and she served as the lead faculty in 2014 to develop the department’s first strategic plan, with advice and recommendations from alumni, industry, and the departmental advisory board. She administered the department’s graduate program for 35 to 40 domestic and international graduate students.

Deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, Luxbacher is the founding faculty member of the Watford Society, which promotes diversity, inclusion, and professional development among the mining engineering student body. In addition, she was the founding faculty advisor for the Virginia Tech Mine Rescue Team, which competes in collegiate-level problem-solving and mine safety events modeled on industry.

“This is an unusual time for the university, and in fact, the nation and the world, but our faculty, staff, and students are creative and hardworking,” said Luxbacher. “I’m heartened to be facing these challenges with them. I also think that the economic yet responsible sourcing of raw materials will continue to remain a critical piece of domestic and foreign economies, as will the driving of new technologies. The future remains bright for our department and our students.”

Luxbacher has been involved in research totaling more than $7 million, has published more than 60 papers, and advised more than 20 master's and Ph.D. students. She has undertaken research projects involving the transfer of best practice in mining risk management between the United States and Australia. She has been appointed to a Centers for Disease Control-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC-NIOSH) federal advisory board for mine safety and health research, and recently she served as panelist and presenter at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Fourteenth Session Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane, which focuses on gender diversity and inclusion.

Luxbacher succeeds Erik Westman, who has led the department since 2015. Under Westman’s leadership, the department experienced significant growth in its faculty, expanded its program into the areas of geoenergy and petroleum engineering, and successfully planned and commenced a complete renovation of Holden Hall, which houses the department and is slated to open in the winter of 2021. Westman will continue to serve as professor in the department after a six-month sabbatical refocusing on research, including serving as site director of a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center to carry out collaborative studies on induced seismicity at the TU-Delft in the Netherlands.

“I commend Dr. Westman on his successful tenure as department head,” said Ross. “He has been a strong advocate for Mining and Minerals Engineering, and the department has benefited from his leadership. We wish him well in his new endeavors.”

In addition to her valued industry expertise, Luxbacher has been a committed advisor to numerous university and student-oriented bodies. She is the former president of Virginia Tech’s Engineering Faculty Organization and currently serves as a work-life liaison for the College of Engineering, having met with more than 100 faculty candidates on issues regarding work-life balance and programs at Virginia Tech.

Luxbacher is a proud Hokie and Virginia Tech alumna, having earned her B.S. from the department in 2002, her M.S. in 2005, and her Ph.D. in 2008.

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