Miksad: Readying leaders in engineering for the next century
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.
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.
Your strategic plan targeted excellence as a goal on a number
of fronts. Have you achieved excellence in any of the key areas?
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.
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.
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.
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
in the School of Engineering and Applied Science
mechanical & aerospace
technology, culture & communication
Where do the other 50 percent go?
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.
Do you have special programs to attract and support minority students?
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.
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?
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.
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.
for engineering dean
Sc.D., oceanography, MIT, 1970; M.S., mechanical engineering,
Cornell University, 1964; B.S., mechanical engineering,
Bradley University, 1963.
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,
The National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C., program
director, Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics Program, 1986-87.
College of Science and Technology, London, England, visiting
professor, Mathematics and Aeronautical Engineering departments,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
How is the Engineering School faculty changing?
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.
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.
So, what are you doing about creating more research space?
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.
What about future use of the University of Virginia Reactor facility?
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?
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.
What other priorities do you have?
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.
Let's talk a bit about students' job prospects when they leave
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.
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.
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.
What are your goals while you're dean?
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.
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.
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.
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.