Q&A with the Dean
After nearly 30 years at Texas A&M, you recently became the third dean of engineering and computer science in Baylor's history. What attracted you to Baylor?
Probably first and foremost is that Baylor is an institution that is intentional about integrating Christian faith and academic discipline. Baylor is one of the few major universities attempting to stay true to its Christian heritage. We are one of the few places where a young person can study in an environment that will both challenge him/her academically and spiritually.
I was also attracted to the opportunity to help build the program here. Baylor has a relatively young engineering program compared to some of the established programs in the state (public or private). While we currently have three departments, I believe that we should be looking at developing some new majors to give our students more options. I also liked our emphasis on entrepreneurship. With the I5 program (Immersion into International Interdisciplinary Innovation), our students have an opportunity to have a unique international experience in entrepreneurship.
How has the transition gone for you?
The first three months here have been extremely busy meeting people (faculty, staff, students and alumni), learning how to get around Waco, and figuring out how to get things done at Baylor. My wife and I have found it a very welcoming community, both at Baylor and in Waco. Probably the most difficult has been moving away from our first grandchild in College Station.
Where did you earn your degrees? What is your area of academic specialization?
My undergraduate work was in nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University. I graduated in 1973, which was the year of the Arab oil embargo and the peak of the nuclear industry. It was the crisis in energy that motivated me to switch to mechanical engineering for my MS (Oklahoma State University) and PhD (Purdue University). My general area of specialization is thermal systems with an emphasis on heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
How does Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science fit within the mission of Baylor University?
(The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.)
I really like the part of Baylor's mission statement that focuses on "educating men and women for worldwide leadership and service." With the globalization of technology and manufacturing, many engineers and computer science graduates of our program will likely spend part of their careers overseas. As such, some will have an opportunity to practice their vocational calling and faith in places of the world where there may be few Christians and where a traditional missionary cannot go.
The mission of Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science is "to provide a superior education through instruction, scholarship and service that prepares graduates for professional practice and responsible leadership with a Christian world view." What does that mean to you?
At Baylor, we are really trying to do something unique – integrating one's Christian faith with one's vocational "calling." Much of education today is taught in a moral vacuum. While ethics has to be a part of an engineering curriculum for accreditation purposes, there is no teaching on the ultimate source of ethics™it is typically a societal derived ethic that allows you to function responsibly in your profession. At Baylor, students have a chance to learn from faculty who take their faith seriously, who can appreciate God's handiwork in things like the second law of thermodynamics or Newton's laws of motion; who also can teach a Biblical basis for ethics and why Christians should have a higher moral code than the rest of society; and who also want to practice their faith by accompanying students on an engineering missions trip to Rwanda or Honduras.
How do you envision the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC) playing a part of the School of Engineering & Computer Science?
The BRIC will be vital to the growth of ECS. We just started a PhD program in Electrical and Computer Engineering and hope to get approval to start one in both Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering soon. We will be hiring new faculty in all of our programs. We have no room in the Rogers building to house research laboratories. With the BRIC, faculty will have laboratory space to conduct research and graduate student offices to house their graduate students. The BRIC will also give our faculty opportunities to collaborate with the engineers and scientists from companies located in the BRIC.
Is there one piece of advice you would like to give students and alumni beginning their careers?
Realize that when you graduate, you have a degree that says you are capable of learning something new. Engineering and computer science are tied to technologies that change rapidly and our graduates have to adapt to the changes.
When I started my undergraduate program, I took a class on how to use the slide rule. Most students today have never seen one, don't know what it is, and don't know how to use it. Yet, it was a technology vital to engineers up until the early 1970s.
Today, we carry smart phones that have more computing power than the computers that went on the Apollo 11 moon mission. The technology that graduates are using today will change. We may not know how, but I am hopeful that it will be Baylor ECS graduates that will be at the forefront of those changes.
Web Extra: More About the Dean
What do you see as distinctives of the School of Engineering and Computer Science?
Besides the Christian distinctives that I mentioned earlier about Baylor, ECS offers a holistic experience for the students. We have the ECS living-learning center (LLC) where students get to live, fellowship and learn with other engineering and computer science students.
Our students also have an opportunity to apply their faith in a very practical way with organizations like Engineers with a Mission and Computing for Compassion where they can go on mission trip to different parts of the world and assist Christians in projects in the third world. ECS is also one of the few engineering programs in a US evangelical university that offers a comprehensive undergraduate and graduate experience for our students.
What goals are current priorities?
We have grown very rapidly over the past decade, which has created challenges for us. Some of my top priorities in the next few years will be increasing the number of faculty, degree programs, space, visibility, and financial resources for our program. We have six faculty searches currently underway – two in each of our departments. We will need to continue to add faculty in all of our programs to keep up with student enrollment in both our undergraduate and graduate programs. We also want to look at some possible additional majors we could start that would expand options for our undergraduate students.
As most of the readers know, we have been in the Rogers building since the late 1980s. It has served us well but is woefully inadequate for the size of our current program (~950 students). To sustain growth in our program, we will need a new building in the next five years.
As our program has grown, we have seen an increase in the number of companies recruiting our students. However, there are still many major corporations that don't know that we have an engineering program and who don't recruit at Baylor. I want to increase our visibility with these companies so our students have a broader range of employment opportunities in the future.
Our financial resources are modest. I was shocked to find out that less than 20% of Baylor alumni regularly give to the university. For Baylor ECS to continue to expand in numbers and improve in quality, we will need the financial help of our alumni.
What would be on your "wish list" for the School of Engineering and Computer Science?
As we look to the future, there are three things on my "wish list": faculty, space and students. We need to continue to recruit faculty who are committed Christians and are also dedicated to quality teaching and building research programs. We are in disciplines that change rapidly and the faculty we recruit should be at the leading edge of technological and scientific changes. They should also bring the excitement of their research into the classroom.
Another top priority is space. In the short time I have been here, I have become painfully aware that we are space constrained. We are in a building that is appropriate for a program about one half our current size. While the space in the BRIC will help for our graduate programs and research, we are woefully short of project space for our design classes and offices to house new faculty.
With respect to students, we would like to attract the brightest and best, retain them in our programs, and help ensure they have the best career opportunities when they graduate.
What are your fundraising priorities for the School of Engineering & Computer Science?
Given the cost of attending Baylor, one of my top priorities is scholarships. I want to encourage all of our alumni to annually give back to our program. Alumni gifts, even if small, can make a big difference in the life of an ECS student. Giving back is just one way to help ensure that the next generation of ECS students can afford a Baylor education.
Another priority is raising funds for endowed professorships and chairs. If we are going to attract and retain the best faculty, then we will need to have endowed positions.
Why is it important for undergraduate students to engage in research as part of their undergraduate education?
Engineering and computer science are disciplines that are always on the move. Unlike the classroom experience, where the student learns the basics in a discipline, research puts them out on the cutting edge of knowledge in a field where they get the joy (and hard work) of discovering new knowledge or creating something that may not be in their textbook. They get to work independently on their project, write it up, and present it. In the process, they gain valuable skills that can help them secure a job when they graduate.