Fall 2022 Community Update

Dear School of Engineering Colleagues,

It’s been a remarkable semester, and I’m grateful for your many contributions - to research, teaching, service, overall operations and our general sense of community. I have valued the opportunity to get to know staff, students, faculty and alumni over the course of the semester. Through individual and group meetings, I’ve learned more about the community’s deep commitment to the School and heard a number of ideas for ways we can cultivate inclusiveness, grow research, strengthen education and enhance our profile - some of which we are already acting upon. I write to offer updates on efforts to advance these key priorities.

Tejal Desai with studentsPromoting research: One of my greatest joys as dean has been the opportunity to learn more about the breadth of significant research taking place across the School, and the interdisciplinary collaborations across and beyond campus. The School of Engineering is fundamental to the University’s plan to substantially expand research in the next decade, and we’re positioning the School for success, including by spearheading several large funding initiatives that draw on areas of excellence, such as sustainable energy, biomedical engineering, and equitable health technology. In addition, we’ve launched a school-wide Strategic Planning for Faculty Growth initiative to identify areas of opportunity across disciplines to attract exceptional new faculty. We will review preliminary drafts of our strategic plans during our faculty retreat in January. Staff managers are also engaged in strategic planning to ensure our resources are aligned with our overall priorities.
Research space continues to be critical, and in the year ahead, we will work to both ensure that current lab space is used efficiently to support productivity while partnering with the Division of Biology and Medicine to create a new integrated life sciences research facility in the Jewelry District. We are also working with the Graduate School to determine fiscally sustainable options for increasing the number of doctoral students.

Enhancing diversity & inclusion: Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion has been and remains a key priority for the School of Engineering and is crucial to advancing excellence and impact. In the year ahead, I look forward to working with you to recruit and retain more faculty from historically underrepresented groups, diversify the student body across all levels, and foster a deeply supportive and inclusive environment. 

Central to this will be hiring an associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion who will help to ensure we have the systems, structures and policies to advance our overarching goals. We’ve launched a search for this important role and - in collaboration with the DEI committee, student leaders and others - hope to identify a candidate to begin in the spring.
Strengthening education: In the area of education, the work of the Core Curriculum Review Committee continues, now with professional support from the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. Among the Committee’s tasks in the spring will be to engage student, faculty and University stakeholders in the review process. We’re also proceeding with the proposal to the College Curriculum Council to establish a concentration in Design Engineering, which we were able to discuss with the faculty during two recent meetings.
Increasing philanthropy: The School of Engineering is actively engaged in fundraising, as our ability to grow the faculty, expand research, increase doctoral students, renovate lab space and cultivate a vibrant community depends on individual, foundation and corporate philanthropy. Elevating the profile of the School and showcasing the exceptional, innovative work taking place across disciplines and the associated societal contributions is essential to our success. Fortunately, the fall semester has been replete with occasions to meet with members of the extended engineering community to discuss our progress and priorities, and their enthusiasm for the School is clearly evident.
For example, earlier this semester, we hosted the Engineering Advisory Council - a group of alumni and friends who volunteer their time and expertise to offer insights to help guide our work. Our meeting included an overview of our strengths and opportunities, and featured presentations by Professors Kimani Toussaint, Nitin Padture and Vicki Colvin on some of the major research initiatives that are being led by the School. We were also able to showcase the exceptional research of Professors Linda Abriola and Kurt Pennell during the Family Weekend forum, Forever Chemicals: Exploring Environmental Fate and Exposure.
I was also delighted to participate with Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Mukesh Jain last month for an alumni event in Washington, DC, focusing on research. In addition, next week, I look forward to joining President Paxson and Corporation member and engineering alumna Theresia Gouw ’90 for a panel discussion with alumni focused on leadership. 

Finally, in conjunction with this work, the School of Engineering is collaborating with the Office of University Communications to develop a strategic communication plan to increase awareness of - and interest and pride in - the School among stakeholders. We have a great story to tell, and I look forward to engaging with all of you to expand our outreach and impact.
Thank you, again, for all that you do.
Warm regards,