Luis Ruiz Pestana honored with Dr. Reza and Georgianna Khatib Endowed Chair

Luis Ruiz Pestana, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, was recently presented with the top honor.
Luis Ruiz Pestana honored with Dr. Reza and Georgianna Khatib Endowed Chair
Pratim Biswas, Julio Frenk, Antonio Nanni, Jeffrey Duerk (back row), Reza Khatib, and Luis Ruiz Pestana (front row) at the presentation of the Dr. Reza and Georgianna Khatib Endowed Chair on November 17 at the Kislak Center at the University of Miami.

Reza Khatib, guided by an inner mission to help as many people as he could, decided to become a neurosurgeon after a public official and security officer he greatly admired suffered a head injury in the line of duty that later proved fatal. Khatib was only ten years old at the time, and when he learned that the official could have been saved by the care of a neurosurgeon, his life would change forever.

Raised in the Holy City of Mashhad in Persia, Khatib became a decorated neurosurgeon and vigorously pursued philanthropy along with his late wife Georgianna Khatib. Their lifelong commitment to improving the lives of others is embodied in the Dr. Reza and Georgianna Khatib Endowed Chair, recently presented to Luis Ruiz Pestana, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at the College of Engineering during an evening ceremony at the Kislak Center.

Pestana is an expert in molecular modeling and simulation whose team recently secured a $1.24 million grant to fund three years of research into how bacterial biofilms grow and why they can successfully thrive in hostile environments.

“It’s a great time for the College of Engineering,” said Pratim Biswas, dean of the College of Engineering, “thanks to special faculty members like our guest of honor, Luis Ruiz Pestana, and everyone here today.”

“Luis first came to us from Cantabria, Spain as an exchange student fourteen years ago,” said Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering. “He got to know the University, and there was also someone else who convinced him to stay–his wife. He’s a modeler who not only works at every scale, starting from the nanoscale, but he’s also broken so many siloes, working with people across the University and the world.”

“The most powerful kind of science is curiosity-driven,” said Pestana, “not attached to specific outcomes or applications. These awards really enable that kind of work. With this award, I’ll pursue high-risk, high-reward ideas, which would be impossible without the support of Dr. Reza Khatib and his late wife Georgianna Khatib.”

“An endowed chair symbolizes the intersection of a donor’s generosity and a scholar’s talent,” said President Julio Frenk. “Visionary donors, such as Dr. Reza Khatib and his late wife Georgianna Khatib, ensure bright futures for generations of scholars through permanent investments. They offer the sustained support that talented researchers, like Luis Ruiz Pestana, need to pursue their groundbreaking work.”

“Talent is what elevates a university,” said Jeffrey Duerk, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Endowed chairs are invaluable to helping fulfill our aspirations and positioning the College and University of Miami as leaders in STEM and STEM education.”

Khatib has a long history of contributing to the betterment of society. His passion for medicine, philanthropy, and mutual respect of all cultures and faiths have remained central components of his life. His contributions range from the creation of the Mashhad Clinic and Shelter for the Poor and the building of Iran’s first hospice to endowed chairs at several prestigious universities in the United States.

“Dr. Pestana,” Khatib said, “I congratulate you on your chair and hope you will continue your work the way I did in my career, helping others as much as you can. You bring much talent and experience to the University’s endowed chair, in the name of my beloved, late wife Georgie and myself, the Dr. Reza and Georgianna Khatib Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering.”

The University aims to secure 100 endowed chairs by the time it celebrates its centennial in 2025, as part of its Ever Brighter Campaign For Our Next Century. With a $2.5 billion goal, Ever Brighter is the most ambitious campaign in the University’s history.