Season 6 - Episode 638
Dr. Daniel Pack was appointed as Dean of Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) after a successful tenure as dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In this Baylor Connections, get to know Dr. Pack and learn more about his insights into the school’s research, teaching and future growth.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking engineering with Dr. Daniel Pack. Dr. Pack serves as Dean of Baylor University's School of Engineering and Computer Science. He came to Baylor after eight years as Dean of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, providing leadership in the school's departments of civil and chemical engineering, computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, engineering management and technology, and mechanical engineering. A longtime educator, Dr. Pack was named a 2005 Carnegie US Professor of the Year. Prior to joining UT Chattanooga, he served in an endowed professor position in Texas at UTSA and as a professor at the United States Air Force Academy. He's the co-author of seven textbooks and has served as an editor for multiple engineering journals. Dr. Pack officially joined the Baylor faculty in June. We're pleased to have him with us on the program today. Dr. Pack, welcome to Baylor. I know you've heard that many times, but from us as well. And thanks for joining us on the show today.
Daniel Pack:Well, thank you for the invitation and I look forward to our talk today.
Derek Smith:Looking forward to learning what you've learned as you've immersed yourself in the world of a Baylor ECS and Baylor in general, and the exciting things that are going on there. I mean, just last week... Or last week, I saw you across the way at the opening of the Central Texas Cyber Range, and that's just one example of exciting things that are going on. So I know you're keeping busy. Well, let's dive in here. First impressions, Dr. Pack. Hopefully start off with an easy question. What are some of your first impressions of life at Baylor and what Baylor's all about?
Daniel Pack:This is an easy question. I really enjoyed getting to know people of Baylor, starting from president and the first gentleman to all the faculty members and staff and students. I have not met a single person that I did not enjoyed over the time, over the three months that I've been here. I also enjoyed seeing them throughout the town. One of the things that we're doing, my wife and I, are looking for a church home. And every single church that I visited over the three months I met Baylor faculty, staff or student, which has been delight.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, you have plenty of hopefully friends here in the areas. You get to know people and get to know the Waco community, and you talk about getting to know people, whether it's your ECS colleagues or the Baylor family more broadly. What are some of the ways you've been able to do that? Have you done any kind of fun or different things?
Daniel Pack:Well, it's been a whirlwind of events and activities that helped me to get to know people. Orientation meetings, retreats, leadership retreats, faculty retreats, football games to name just a few. All these meetings and events were fun, but if you ask me to choose which one was my favorite, it would be the Baylor Line Camp and the Moving Day and the Picnic Palooza as my favorites. For those of you who do not know what Picnic Palooza is, it's a school-wide event at the School of Engineering and Computer Science where we celebrate the start of a new academic year with all the faculty, staff and students get together. And it was a fun and wonderful event this year.
Derek Smith:That's great. Picnic Palooza, that's one I was not familiar with, so I learned something here. That's great. And you mentioned Line Camp and move it. What's one thing that stands out to you from those experiences?
Daniel Pack:Well, it's such a great history and culture that Baylor Institution has and what it provides to students. And it was as if I were going back in time to understanding and know the history of Baylor and be a part of that was just a wonderful experience
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Daniel Pack, Dean of Baylor School of Engineering and Computer Science and Dr. Pack, let's get to know you a little bit better. First, let's say the scholarly side of things. Tell us a little bit about your research focus. What are the areas within the engineering that have really... You've pursued and shaped you?
Daniel Pack:Sure. So I would say my desire to pursue scholarly activities really came from my upbringing. My family has a long line of educators and pastors. And just growing up in that family environment helped me to really pursue or have a desire to pursue in professional careers in education. So when I was in college undergraduate, I had a great mentor who taught me the value of research. He happens to be a Dean. He became a Dean of the College of Engineering at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. But he taught me the value of doing control theories and how it can help, coming up with theories and ways to control systems. That led me to the graduate school pursuing a Master's Degree in Control and then a PhD degree in using control in robotics. So I started my career at the Air Force Academy. And I thought about how could I use my background and expertise best for Air Force. And the answer was pretty simple of moving that into flying robots or unmanned aircraft systems. So that's where I started and that's where my specialties and expertise in research is, unmanned aircraft systems. But not just a single unmanned aircraft system, but my expertise in cooperative multiple unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, better known as drones. In that area, I use the control theories to coordinate the movements of multiple robots and use their sensing capabilities to then combine the individual sensing into a collective sensing capacity. And then as they are moving around, they have to share information amongst themselves. So there is quite a bit of ad hoc networks and the theories and knowledge associated with that. So control, sensing and communication, they're all working together to make the overall system of systems to accomplish mission or task.
Derek Smith:That's a great description of what you do and very helpful. And I'm curious, are there specific questions within that or puzzles within that that you particularly enjoy thinking about and researching and studying?
Daniel Pack:So the challenge among many challenges in that area is how to combine those three areas of difficult tasks, controlling and coordinating, sensing. And then communicating among themselves. So the thing that really intrigues me and piques my interest is optimal way or best way to putting those capabilities together for different tasks. Cooperative systems by definition has to have a task associated with it or mission associated with it. And those three components of the cooperative systems vary based on a mission by mission. So the interest or challenge of solving problem is given a new mission. How do you combine and balance those capabilities together to accomplish that mission?
Derek Smith:Dr. Pack, as you describe your research and your focus, I'm curious, sir, you've had a highly decorated career awards and grants. Are there aspects of that research or teaching career that you've put together thus far that you're most proud of? What are some of the highlights for you?
Daniel Pack:Well, for the research portion, I am very proud of the fact that the work that we have done has influenced the policy of United States, of how to use unmanned aerial vehicles for teaching side. The proudest moment comes when our students go out and do wonderful work, whatever the field of their choices. And they come back and tell you that you had something to do with their successes. Those are the beautiful moments.
Derek Smith:That's wonderful. Visiting with Dr. Daniel Pack on Baylor Connections, Dean of Baylor School of Engineering and Computer Science. And Dr. Pack, before we really dive into coming to Baylor and your work at ECS here and the vision going forward. I'm curious, let's get to know you a little bit better as well beyond your teaching. If we were to find you when you are needing a break from teaching or when you're just enjoying your own time, what are some of the things we might find you or your family doing?
Daniel Pack:So I think you'll find me doing one of Merld, M-E-R-L-D and it stands for an activity. So M is music. I love music, listening to music, all kinds of types of music, but I also love playing piano and singing. So music is doing music or listening to music is one of the things that you'll find. E is exercise. I enjoy doing exercise in particular. I used to play quite a bit of tennis, volleyball, soccer, and then swimming. So that's E. R is reading. I love all kinds of great books, reading books. My favorite is Narrative History by David McCullough. I love his books. And then L is listening. I love podcasts, many of different kinds of podcasts, and D is a devotion or quiet time. I love walking in the woods with my wife and just enjoying the nature and a quiet time to reflect.
Derek Smith:That's wonderful. I like the approach there you have merging them all together in different ways mentally. That's great. Well, hope you could find some exciting ways to participate in those here as you get to know the Baylor family at Central Texas better. Visiting with Dr. Daniel Pack. And so Dr. Pack, you joined the Baylor faculty officially in June. We've known for a little while you were coming here. And I'm curious for you first, what was meaningful to you? Why was it important to you to come be a part of what's happened here at Baylor and specifically as a Christian research university?
Daniel Pack:Sure. A long time ago when I decided to become an educator, it was because there is this aspect of education that can change people's lives. And it's not just the students' lives, but their families and generations that will follow them. When the opportunity at Baylor was presented to me, it was a lifetime chance to grasp. Because in addition to transforming students' lives, it's an opportunity to impact and make an environment where students will have the experience not only to change their lives, but also have an opportunity for them to go out and change the world with Christian heart. That was a tremendous opportunity and the reason that I came to Baylor.
Derek Smith:What to you, does that intersection of your faith but excellence in engineering look like to you?
Daniel Pack:So that's a very important question, I think for all engineers and computer scientists of faith. As an engineer, I think that because we serve perfect God, who is excellent in all He does, that we also must find excellent technical solutions to the societal challenges that we face. As an administrator of an engineering and computer science, it is critical for us that we create an environment and culture where students and faculty and staff can excel in learning and in research and in service that advances our society using technologies.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Daniel Pack. That's a great description, Dr. Peck. And obviously, we can get a sense of in part of what drew you here to Baylor. But when you first heard about this position, you knew about Baylor, learned more, started looking around to ECS in particular, what were some of the things that really drew you here? What were some of the things you noticed as you really took the time to take a look at a place that can only come when you're thinking about making a major life change?
Daniel Pack:Sure. I heard the Baylor opportunity through a friend in Texas. And when I first saw the ad... It's a school with Christian mission, so I thought it was some legacy statement. But when I found out that it was real and that the university is Christian mission-based school that is actively practicing that, it really grabbed my attention. The two things that really drew me to this position is the Christian mission and a great potential of the school to bring blessings to the world.
Derek Smith:And you came here and you looked at what ECS was doing, where it was going. And we've had the pleasure on this program of having many of your colleagues from ECS on the program over the years and the great work that they're doing. But certainly it's growing in a lot of ways as well. And I'm curious, what are your impressions of where the faculty that you're now a part of and the students and the vision of ECS where it's taking ECS?
Daniel Pack:So I would say nothing but wonderful things about the school, the faculty, staff and students. They're smart, good-looking, and they're very passionate of what they-
Derek Smith:Good combination.
Daniel Pack:... do. Yeah, there we go. And I believe the school will make a big splash in the world with its excellent graduates and with its research findings that will benefit the world.
Derek Smith:Dr. Pack, we've seen things... I mentioned we saw you at the Central Texas Cyber Range ribbon cutting a couple of weeks ago. There's major grants that faculty and ECS are earning and new programs as well. What kind of research momentum do you see that's been built within the school?
Daniel Pack:Well, in terms of research, our PhD programs are growing very rapidly, which is very important to make a major impact in the research communities. We have hired excellent faculty members who are leaders in their own fields, including endowed chairs. A number of research awards is growing rapidly within school, and we have a fabulous facility in the brick building. And we have great students who are coming to Baylor, so we are on track to make a great research impact for the world.
Derek Smith:These first few months here, you've only been... We've talked about, you officially joined the faculty in June. I know you've been doing a lot of visiting, a lot of listening. What have these first few months looked like for you and what's been most helpful to you throughout this time?
Daniel Pack:So one of the things that I did was sit down with each of the faculty and staff member of the school to listen to their aspirations, their challenges, and their perspectives of the school. And one theme... Actually, two themes continue to appear over and over again. The first one is the enthusiasm and the great expectation for the future of the school. Not only the faculty and staff and students within the school, but in other places when I was talking to with the university leaders, friends and alums of the school. That was one theme that came out over and over again. The second one has to do with my observation of the like-mindedness of the people within the school who wants what's the best for the school, for the university to advance the mission of the school for His glory.
Derek Smith:I think you just touched on this, but I want to ask specifically as well. What do you see as some of ECS's core strengths, the things that you look at and you're like, "Wow, we can build and multiply that."
Daniel Pack:Well, so I will repeat myself again.
Daniel Pack:Great people. We have great potential. And then passion among the members of ECS.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Daniel Pack, Dean of Baylor University's School of Engineering and Computer Science. And I'm sure you get this question from some others. Well, what's your vision? What's your vision for ECS? So I'll ask you that knowing that I'm sure there's a whole lot more to come the more you immerse yourself in working with your colleagues.
Daniel Pack:Sure. My initial thought now is that we as a school need to be the salt and light of the technical communities of the world. And for us to do that, we need to grow in size and we need to grow in our research capacity. And then we need to establish some strategic partnerships in industry, government, and in the community as well.
Derek Smith:I know that we talk about... Our guests on the program last week, Dr. Brickhouse and Tiffany Hoke, were talking about a new strategic plan for the university, but it's building on the successes of Illuminate. And I know that two of the big academic initiatives of Illuminate really touch on what's going on in engineering. When you talk about material science or data sciences, collaborative areas. When you look across the university, it seems like ECS faculty are collaborating with colleagues in totally different disciplines and genres of work. What potential do you see for that and what does it mean to you that I think some of the core areas within the school are valued like that by Baylor?
Daniel Pack:Yeah, that's a tremendous opportunity for us to expand what we have been doing in interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary work. I have had an opportunity to talk with the deans of different schools. And believe it or not, each of the schools and colleges, Deans and others thought that there are opportunities to work together with our school and what we do. So as an example of a cybersecurity work that we do, there is an opportunity to work with business school that we are actively looking for ways to do so. Health and human services are on other areas that we can work quite a bit in both cybersecurity. But in other aspects of data science and AI, many, many different areas that we can work together with colleagues throughout the university in collaboration. So I'm excited about that.
Derek Smith:It seems like there's really no limit to the ways that you could partner, for sure.
Daniel Pack:None. None.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Pack, let's look ahead as we get further into the school year. We talked about listening has been really front and center to what you've been doing since you got here. Is there a timeline you're working on or are there kind of key aspects of what you want to make sure you do as you build on working with your colleagues, listening and more in the first year?
Daniel Pack:Yeah, so the listening over the summer has been very helpful. I still need to have an opportunity to listen more from students and alums and friends of the school, which will continue. But I think at the same time, we are in a place where we can start planning for the future, and that planning is an exciting time for us to put together the ideas and the future building blocks into reality. So we are very excited about that planning process that will occur this fall.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, we'll look forward to seeing the fruits of that in the weeks and months and years ahead. And I know we'll have many of the faculty with whom you serve from ECS, we'll have them on the program and the future and share the great work that they're doing. But I appreciate it. I know you're very busy. Appreciate you taking the time to share with us today, let us get to know you better. And look forward for all the great things happening at ECS.
Daniel Pack:Thank you very much.
Derek Smith:Thank you.
Daniel Pack:It's been a pleasure.
Derek Smith:Thank you very much. Dr. Daniel Pack, Dean of Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Thanks for joining us. A reminder, you can hear this in other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.