April 28-May 4, 2000
Back Issues
Researchers looking for causes of heart disease
Off the Shelf - recently published books by U.Va. faculty and staff
Onuf elucidates Jefferson's nation-making

All-University Outstanding Teaching Award winners

Q&A - Engineering Dean Richard Miksad
After Hours - On the roof or ground, Quillon takes chess to new heights
Faculty Actions from the April BOV meeting
In Memoriam
Hot Links - Cavalier Computers
ITC's Office Technology Conference to be held May 10
WFPA honors Sisson and Allen

Richard Miksad: Readying leaders in engineering for the next century

Richard Miksad
Stephanie Gross
Miksad stands outside the school's multimillion-dollar "clean room," where faculty and students work on semiconductor devices used in computer chips and other sophisticated microelectronic devices and circuits, some so small that they require an electron microscope to distinguish.

In his first term as dean in the fall of 1995, Richard Miksad, the Thomas M. Linville Professor of Engineering, discussed the future of the School of Engineering and Applied Science with faculty, advisers and other stakeholders in the school. These discussions led to the creation of a comprehensive strategic plan that stressed excellence -- excellence in building an academic community of students, faculty and staff, excellence in creating and nurturing a diverse community, excellence in teaching, and excellence in research. Now in his second term as dean, Miksad is continuing to pursue those goals and refining them along the way. In this interview, Miksad notes the progress made in several key areas and reflects on the distance yet to go.

Q: Your strategic plan targeted excellence as a goal on a number of fronts. Have you achieved excellence in any of the key areas?

A: When it comes to excellence in students, we are there. The average verbal SAT scores of our entering students are identical to those of the University as a whole, and their average quantitative score exceeds the University average by more than 35 points. Not only are they involved in the usual kinds of extracurricular activities, they also are actively involved in community outreach. Our students are just as concerned about where the world is going as students studying English literature or history. From our pool of applications, we make roughly a thousand offers each year. We get better than a 50 percent yield.

Well-rounded engineers needed

-- from Miksad's letter in the case statement for the School of Engineering and Applied Science

Almost every challenge we face as a nation and as a leader in the community of nations is steeped in technological content, from economic competitiveness to the education of our children and from health care to environmental clean-up.

Leaders who understand the technological basis of the critical issues we face and who appreciate their ethical, philosophical, and historical context are essential to our future. The nation's continued well-being requires engineers who can communicate clearly and forcefully and who are willing to make their voices heard in the debates about our future.

It is this critical mission that defines the activities of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Virginia - and it is a mission that, as heirs to Thomas Jefferson's educational legacy, we are uniquely qualified to fulfill.

Departments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science

applied mechanics
biomedical engineering
chemical engineering
civil engineering
computer science
electrical engineering
engineering physics
materials science
mechanical & aerospace
systems engineering
technology, culture & communication

Q: Where do the other 50 percent go?

A: We lose most of our in-state students to [Virginia] Tech and Tech in turn loses just as many to us. If you are an outstanding student in a Virginia high school and want to study engineering, then U.Va. and Tech are the schools of choice. My primary competitors for all students, in-state or out-of-state, are Cornell and Duke. Out-of-state students make up anywhere from 35 to 45 percent of our entering class, depending on the year. We lose most of our potential out-of-state students to the Ivy League and to the very best public universities, such as Georgia Tech.

Q: Do you have special programs to attract and support minority students?

A: Yes, this is perhaps the best-kept secret of the University. The Engineering School has the only self-funded minority program office in the University. We put about $400,000 into our Office of Minority Programs each year. This is roughly the same amount of support we provide each of our academic departments. Engineering is not an easy major and our faculty believe so strongly in the importance of making an engineering education available to minority students that for almost two decades they have totally supported the use of our severely limited funds to aid minority students.

Is the Engineering School diverse? Yes, but not as diverse as we'd like to be. We do very well with African-American students. We don't get as many as we want, but most importantly, those who choose to study here graduate at the same rate as all of our students do, and they go on to exceptionally rewarding jobs and the very best graduate schools.

Q: How successful is the Engineering School at recruiting women students and faculty members?

A: We do exceptionally well, both with students and faculty. Last year, 26 percent of our undergraduates and 22 percent of our graduate students were women. Those are among the highest levels in the country. Of our full-time faculty members, about 15 percent are women, which, again, we believe is one of the highest rates in the country. Most engineering deans would kill to break 10 percent. My goal is to bring our women faculty to 20 percent within the next five years. As for minority faculty members, we need and want more, and we are actively recruiting more. It is just so hard to find them because minority Ph.D's in engineering are so limited in number.

Q: Have there been any changes in the curriculum lately?

A: One of the things I wanted to do when I came here was to create a curriculum flexible enough to meet the breadth of interest of our students. So, we reduced the number of required hours in our programs from about 135 on average to 128, and increased our flexibility to accommodate minors and cross-disciplinary programs. Now a student can truly finish our program in four years and minor in premed, or business, or for that matter, English poetry.

We continue to place a great emphasis on the communication and teamwork skills of our students. Our Division of Technology, Culture and Communication is one of our treasures, an outstanding group of scholars dedicated to expanding the horizons of our students. Not only do they teach communication skills and teamwork, they teach our students the role of technology in society. TCC's focus on ethics and the responsibilities of leadership in a technology-driven civilization is a major element that differentiates our engineering school from many others.

Richard MiksadSpecs for engineering dean

Education: Sc.D., oceanography, MIT, 1970; M.S., mechanical engineering, Cornell University, 1964; B.S., mechanical engineering, Bradley University, 1963.

Previous Jobs: All at the University of Texas at Austin: chairman, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department, 1988-94; associate director, NSF/ERC - Offshore Technology Research Center, 1988-94; director, Aeronautical Research Center, 1988-90; associate dean for research, College of Engineering, 1988-90; professor, Civil Engineering Department, 1985-94.

The National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., program director, Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics Program, 1986-87.

Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, England, visiting professor, Mathematics and Aeronautical Engineering departments, 1980-84.

Family: Wife, Robin, president of the U.Va. Library Associates; daughter Rebecca, 27, third-year medical student, Cornell; daughter Rachel, 26, second-year medical student, Duke; and son, Roger, 20, taking a break from U.Va. to hike through the Outback in Australia with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Accomplishments: Personal -- helping his son earn his Eagle Scout badge; establishing two permanent scholarships for seniors at Saunders High School in Yonkers, N.Y., in memory of his brother, Steven. Professional -- seeing the Engineering School's capital campaign surpass its $37.5 million goal and grow beyond $50 million.

Summer Vacation: He and his wife bought a Mercedes SLK230 silver sports car from the factory in Stuttgart, Germany, and drove it, rapidly, through France and the Pyrenees Mountains to Northern Spain, where they spent two weeks touring the countryside. The vacation was so much fun that they got to the airport a day late and had to reschedule their flight home.

Hobby: Refinishing furniture

Reading: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, by Mike Dash; recently finished The Brethren, by John Grisham.

Q: What other changes are in the works?

A: We revamped our promotion and tenure criteria to place a greater emphasis on the importance of teaching for faculty promotion and stressed the need to demonstrate all- around excellence in teaching, research, and service. We expect people we promote from assistant to associate professor to demonstrate a clear potential for being future leaders of our school. Promotion to full professor requires a clear demonstration of that leadership, not just potential. They must be pillars that the future of this school can be built on.

To attract and keep top faculty members, we need to strengthen our fundraising efforts. Most of the leading schools that we recruit faculty from obtain about 11 percent of their operating budgets from permanent endowments. This discretionary endowment income often means the difference between ho-hum and excellent. To get on a par with the schools we benchmark against, I need a permanent endowment on the order of $100 million to $120 million. That's my target. Right now, we're at roughly $40 million.

Q: How is the Engineering School faculty changing?

A: The Engineering School continues to change as we fulfill our potential as a leading research institution. During the terms of my two predecessors, Ed Starke and Jack Gibson, the Engineering School successfully navigated the transition from being a very good teaching-oriented school to that of a world-class, research-and-teaching school. Ed Starke in particular deserves great credit for this transformation. It's like going from Division III to Division I, only in academics instead of sports. We now compete with Duke, Stanford, Cornell, Princeton, MIT, Harvard and other top universities. To do so, we must excel in both teaching and research, and we have focused on recruiting faculty who want to play in that league. We try to recruit faculty who do not view pursuing excellence in both teaching and research as unwelcome pressure. We want faculty who view this kind of pressure as a challenge. We want faculty who think it's a blast to excel in both.

Q: You have talked about seeking to double the research funding coming into the Engineering School from a total of about $30 million to $60 million.

A: Right now, we're bringing in roughly $200,000 per faculty member per year. That's where our peers were about five or six years ago, when we were roughly at $130,000. But our peers now are closer to $300,000 a year per faculty member and they're not standing still. To keep up with them we need faculty and graduate students who excel at research. We also need research space. We just don't have enough space to grow our existing programs to their full potential, or to branch out into new areas that will be the drivers of science and technology for the next decade or two. Creating more space is our highest priority right now, and it is not easy.

Q: So, what are you doing about creating more research space?

A: We are partnering with the Medical School to build a new facility for the biomedical engineering program. The Whitaker Foundation gave us $3.5 million for that. And the building's foundation is being dug now. The building should be up sometime next spring, and we'll probably be fully moved in a year from this summer. Two other critical projects we are seeking to fund are a new Information Technology Center and a Nanoscale Materials Science Research building. We have completed preliminary design plans for both. We have fund-raising drives going for both projects and we are looking for major donors. We'll need about $30 million for the IT Center. The Nanoscale Materials Science complex will connect our Materials Science and our Chemical Engineering buildings. It would bring together research on advanced materials and advanced chemistry of materials and should cost somewhere on the order of $15 million.

Q: What about future use of the University of Virginia Reactor facility?

A: The decommissioning of the facility is going very nicely. I haven't heard of a single problem. The timing is up to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but I think we'll probably start renovating the building for other uses within the next two years. One plan we are considering is to renovate the building into an engineering research lab complex that will focus on the intersection of information technology, the biological sciences and nano-technology -- the "Bio/Info/Nano" nexus. That's an area where U.Va. is well positioned to make a major impact. [Nanotechnology involves engineering systems with components only 1-100 nanometers long -- many thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Such small systems may have properties -- optical, electrical, mechanical -- that are different and better than larger systems. Because of their small size, nanoscale systems also may be cheaper to produce, lighter in weight and more economical to operate.]

Q: You spent a lot of time and effort at Texas strengthening relationships between the Engineering School and industry. Can you talk about similar efforts you're making here?

A: Well, about a quarter of all the research we do in the Engineering School is funded by industry. It goes up and down from year to year, but generally remains at a good level compared with many other engineering schools. We take a two-pronged approach. First, we form key corporate alliances with global companies, such as IBM and Motorola. Second, we serve as an active resource for economic development in the state. In other words, we enable state economic development officials to put resources into play that differentiate Virginia from other states. For example, the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium, a program U.Va. organized, brings together five Virginia schools of engineering, plus the College of William & Mary, IBM, Motorola, the community college system, and the Virginia Economic Development Office, to develop a statewide workforce training program for the microelectronics industry.

Q: What other priorities do you have?

A: In addition to our space crisis, the quality of our graduate students is our next priority. The typical top engineering schools that we benchmark ourselves against have an average of three to five graduate students per faculty member. We're right at two on average. Ph.D. students and their research contributions are critical factors in our drive to strengthen our research programs. One of the targets we're working toward is to increase the number of our Ph.D. candidates to three per faculty member and reduce the number of students pursuing master's degrees.

Q: Let's talk a bit about students' job prospects when they leave here.

A: Job prospects are spectacular. Four to five offers are not uncommon. The biggest complaint we have from corporations is that they can't get as many of our students as they would like. Signing bonuses are common. Our students are in great demand because of their abilities in engineering, communications and teamwork. A lot of our graduates go off to other careers, in medicine, business, and law, which we think is fine. We need more technologically literate people in a broad array of professions.

Q: We haven't really touched on interdisciplinary projects.

A: Well, within the school, we're making it easier for students to take minors in other areas of engineering and gain an interdisciplinary experience. We're setting up an interdisciplinary design course for fourth-year Rodman scholars that will bring together students from different engineering departments and, eventually, from other schools, such as McIntire. It's a pilot project this year. We're also working with other schools at the University on other initiatives, particularly in e-business, that will bring students together from around Grounds.

In addition to e-business, there are a number of cross-disciplinary programs we're working on. A good example, is our biomedical engineering program on which we're collaborating closely with the School of Medicine. We're also working with chemistry on polymer materials and with the biological sciences on merging nanoscale science with engineering and the biological sciences, getting into things like DNA computing and nanoscale gene therapy delivery systems.

Q: What are your goals while you're dean?

A: I want to transform the school into the heart of an information-age Academical Village, a virtual village, that will use information technology to drive new advances in engineering while supporting the University's overall mission. We want to focus on information technology both as an end in itself and as a means to other ends. We want to use our strengths in information technology to create new knowledge and new technological advances.

I would like to bring the Engineering School to the top 20 to 25 level in national rankings. That's the stature of the University overall, so I think that's the right ballpark for the Engineering School. It's a stretch because of our size and the limited state support for the sciences and engineering, but it's achievable. We can't do everything. We're not Berkeley, Stanford, or MIT in size, but we can be their equal in targeted areas. The key is in choosing our strengths carefully.

We have some advantages: We're small enough to change. We're big enough to have impact. The problem is, the transformation is not going to be easy and it's not going to be cheap. And we can't achieve our goals without the support of the University.

Jefferson said his purpose was to establish beginnings. Our goal is to build on those beginnings to create the Engineering School that we envision for the future. And that is the task we're engaged in right now.


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