School engineers strategic plan from wide input

By Steven Schultz

In an effort to launch their academic enterprise into the very highest national ranks, leaders at Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Science have held 11 two-day workshops, taken ideas from nearly 800 participants, brainstormed with outside experts and compiled reports that lay out scores of possible initiatives and opportunities.

And they want more.

Now six months into its strategic planning process, the engineering school is soliciting further input to refine the ideas that have emerged so far and shape them into a final plan, which is scheduled to be completed this semester. The reports from the 11 workshops are available online at <Web page>.

Students and sculpture

In addition, engineering dean Maria Klawe and other leaders of the strategic planning process are traveling the country to host four "mini workshops" aimed at informing alumni of their efforts and soliciting further input. The regional visits are taking place in Boston, Seattle, San Jose and Washington, D.C. (For details and times, see the above Web site.) They also are holding one-on-one talks with many faculty members throughout the engineering school.

"There has been lots of enthusiasm," Klawe said. "I am incredibly impressed with the range of people who came to the workshops and am still getting e-mails from people who are saying they want to be involved."

The workshop topics ranged from broad issues of graduate and undergraduate education to specific research areas such as nanotech-nology and information technology. The workshops also explored connections between engineering and biology, environmental studies, the humanities, policymaking and industry.

For many who attended, the workshops were a remarkable example of people with diverse interests communicating and thinking together about achieving common goals, said Klawe. "I think people came with lots of skepticism and they found it a really engaging, positive experience," she said.

"The process was very, very inclusive," said Larry Peterson, chair of the computer science department and a member of the executive committee for a workshop on the school's connections to government and industry. "It was nice to see how it was designed to make sure everyone had a voice.

"We broke up into multiple groups, but it was interesting to see that there were common themes that just kept coming up over and over across all the groups," Peterson added. "So by the end of the day, it was pretty clear what the important issues were across all the constituents in the room."

The workshops included not only faculty members, but students and staff as well as leaders of technology-related companies, including many alumni. Representatives of other engineering schools around the country and faculty members from non-engineering departments, including the humanities, also participated.

Paul Lansky, professor of music, said his department has had a long-standing connection with the engineering school through students and faculty who have deep interests in both music and technology. "The strategic planning process seemed to imagine ways of thinking about engineering that were not traditional in the context of a liberal arts institution," Lansky said. "Engineering schools are usually very self-contained. But at Princeton there is a lot of interest in interdisciplinary work, and I can only imagine it would increase."

"I can honestly say that, for me personally, the workshops started me thinking differently in terms of research and teaching," said Catherine Peters, professor of civil and environmental engineering. "That was one of the best outcomes I could have imagined: They got people talking who wouldn't ordinarily be talking, and that can only lead to new ideas."

Klawe said that she expects the final plan to focus on about 10 key initiatives that will be pursued aggressively over the next three to five years. "Not all recommendations will make it into the strategic plan," she said. "That doesn't mean they won't happen; they will develop in different ways."

The planning process is scheduled to produce a draft plan by the end of March, in time for presentation to the University Board of Trustees at its April meeting. Klawe said the plan will be further honed and presented in final form to the University community during Reunions in May.


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