Aug. 25, 2006
Vol. 36, Issue 14
Back Issues
University scores high in two national magazine surveys
Martin interim assistant VP for diversity and equity
Apprey appointed interim OAAA dean
Curry's Pianta gets $10M for national study
Medical Center achieves recognition for nursing excellence
Justice wins presidential research award
Virginia Center for Digital History partners in $1 million grant
How U.Va. handles adding 3,000 new student computers to its network in one day
Dean James H. Aylor
SEAS Study
Hale a pioneer in internationalizing U.Va.
'Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture' exhibit opens Sept. 1
New coastal research center opens on Eastern Shore
On the right track: Herman runs for life


Dean James H. Aylor
Guiding Engineering School’s vision to reality

James Aylor
Photo by Tom Cogill

By Cathy Eberly

JAMES H. AYLOR was appointed dean of U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science last year. A triple ’Hoo, Aylor earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at U.Va. His long affiliation with the engineering school provides him with a unique perspective on the school and its profile within the University community, statewide and nationally. Since his appointment, Aylor has been working to build on the school’s strengths and lead it into a new era of growth in research and education. In this interview, he talks about his vision for U.Va. engineering.

QPresident John T. Casteen III has said that strengthening the University’s programs in science and engineering will be critically important over the next 10 years. What will this mean for the engineering school?

AThese days the technology industry dominates much of the U.S. economy. Many of the issues our nation faces, especially those related to energy and the environment, will be solved with technology’s help. Even Americans who aren’t trained as engineers may well wind up working for a technology company at some point in their careers. Thanks to the leadership of John Casteen and the Board of Visitors, U.Va.’s humanities programs have long been considered among the finest in the nation. But if we hope to increase our stature as a university, we must also be a place where innovators in the sciences and engineering can thrive.

QWhat will it take for the engineering school to become a national leader?

AIt will take substantial additional resources, of course. The University is doing what it can by directing half of the revenues it receives from tuition increases to faculty salaries. This will provide us with more funds to attract additional teachers and researchers and to retain the talented scholars who are already members of our faculty. The University is also working to help us locate new funding sources. Our goal is to attract approximately $100 million in external research funding and we’re already halfway there.

QHow will the engineering school change over the next decade?

AIn order to see where we’re going, we have to understand where we’ve been. As a state institution, we have a historical emphasis in undergraduate classroom education and we are very strong in this area. For the past 20 years, we have also been working hard to increase our research and graduate education, and—more recently—we have been pushing to get our undergraduates involved in research. Ten years from now, we will be widely recognized for our undergraduate and graduate education and for our research programs. Not only does research help to attract more highly talented faculty and make life better for those who are already building careers here, but it also enables us to recruit better-qualified students at all levels.

QWill the engineering school grow?

AWe are planning for modest growth. We expect to increase our tenure-track faculty from 150 to 175 and our undergraduate students from 2,000 to 2,200. We need to increase the size of the faculty concomitantly to preserve, as much as possible, our 14:1 undergraduate student to faculty ratio. But even modest growth will require major changes to our facilities. In addition to the information technology engineering building currently on the drawing board, I expect we will be planning another facility behind Thornton Hall—probably devoted to energy, the environment or some other aspect of the macro-engineering business.

QThe line between traditional engineering disciplines has begun to blur in recent years as scholars and researchers from departments within the school and across the University find new opportunities to work together. What types of collaborations do you foresee?

AHere at U.Va., our moderate size and supportive atmosphere make unique collaborations possible. Because we are not a massive institution focused exclusively on technology, pan-University collaborations are not only helpful but necessary. We’ve been able to build a strong biomedical engineering program, in part because our teaching hospital is located on-site and hasn’t been privatized. As demand grows for new medical technologies, I imagine that this successful collaboration will continue to flourish.

Looking further ahead, I envision collaborations between the engineering school and the schools of medicine, business, architecture and commerce, and between electrical and biomedical engineering, computer science and bio-informatics. In my view, some of tomorrow’s most interesting problems will occur at the boundaries of traditional engineering disciplines.

QTomorrow’s engineering graduates will work in a much more global environment. How is the engineering school preparing students for the challenges they will face?

AOur undergraduates should be able to gain international experience while they are enrolled at the engineering school. We can help them arrange internships with international universities, co-ops and other types of study-abroad opportunities—provided we can navigate the scheduling problems. It is my hope that, by arranging internships with multinational corporations as well as with foreign universities, we can add value to our engineering degree.

QYou’ve been traveling around the country in recent months meeting with groups of alumni. What have you learned?

ANo matter what careers alumni have chosen, they are grateful for the education they received in the engineering school. They appreciate its structure, particularly in the first year, but they also find benefit in the fact that it is not all technical in nature, that it offers a well-rounded experience. We continue to attract outstanding students who are looking for a quality education, and we offer them exactly what they came for. V

[This interview first appeared in the spring 2006 issue of the University of Virginia Engineering magazine. It has been reprinted in InsideUVA courtesy of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.]


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