Ira Hollis graduated first in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent 15 years on active Navy duty before beginning a second career in engineering education. Prior to his appointment at WPI, he was dean of the Harvard University School of Engineering.
At WPI, he worked to enhance the role of athletics in the college experience. An enthusiastic alumni body confirmed Hollis' viewpoint by providing the funds to build Alumni Field and Alumni Gymnasium.
During times that tested the entire nation, Hollis introduced organizational changes that resulted in placing WPI on a more parallel course with other major educational institutions. The Board of Trustees, for example, was expanded, and the president and executive committee of the board were given greater powers. In addition, WPI awarded its first honorary degrees during his tenure. George H. Haynes, professor of economics and government and chairman of the faculty, served as interim president from 1923 to 1925.