President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Leadership in Engineering and Applied Science
April 23, 2003
In January, Maria Klawe became dean of our School of Engineering
and Applied Science. A leader in academia and industry, Dean Klawe came
to Princeton from the University of British Columbia, where she served
as Dean of Science and a faculty member in the Department of Computer
Science. She began her career at the IBM Almaden Research Center in
California. -- S.M.T.
I feel tremendously fortunate to lead Princeton University’s distinguished and unique school of engineering and applied science at this time. Every facet of human society is being affected by new technologies and the breadth, depth and rate of this impact are increasing. Education and research in engineering and applied science are more important than ever before, especially in a university like Princeton that plays such a key role in educating the future leaders of the world. To maintain its leadership role, Princeton must be one of the world’s top engineering schools, and it must achieve this goal in a way that exemplifies Princeton’s values and character. There is no doubt that we will succeed if we apply the right mix of determination, vision and hard work—and, of course, that special Princeton magic.
The Princeton magic is perhaps the most important ingredient. Princeton enthusiasts are everywhere, and they are eager to help move Princeton to the top. The University administration, faculty, alumni, industry, government, even the other top engineering schools—everyone seems to be rooting for us; everyone believes this goal is attainable; everyone offers support.
There is no doubt that we have much work ahead of us to attain this goal. Our first step is the initiation of an intensive strategic planning process. The output will be a combination of road-map and business plan that will frame our development for the next five to ten years. Together with influential external participants, the members of the school’s six departments will jointly identify the areas in which we can and should lead the world, and the strategies for how we will get there.
Beginning this summer we will hold a series of retreats, each focused on a single major topic such as undergraduate education, graduate education, interaction with industry, and key technologies such as information technology, nanotechnology and bioengineering.
Questions about undergraduate education that may seem worth pursuing include whether we can develop an interdisciplinary option for first-year students that allows them to learn all their first-year math and physics in the context of an area of engineering applications such as environmental, bio-, or materials engineering. Can we develop an internship program in which students can spend six to twelve months working in their area in industry or public service after their junior year? What is the best approach to providing liberal arts students with a basic understanding of the key technologies and their potential for positive and negative influence on society? Should we develop engineering courses that bring together students from all years and all parts of the university to work in teams on engineering projects that solve societal problems? Should we do this with an international flavor in collaboration with programs such as Princeton in Africa?
Another area that we think needs attention is graduate education. We have world class faculty in both research and teaching, and they attract stellar graduate students. We want our engineering graduate students to have a Princeton experience that matches that of our undergraduates not only in the quality of learning but also in the quality of life. Graduate students are key contributors to engineering research, and can serve as wonderful mentors and role models for undergraduates. We will be working to promote more interaction between our graduate and undergraduate students, and to build stronger links among the students in different departments and across different ethnic cultures.
We also want to excel by creating a School that fosters outstanding teaching and learning experiences for everyone, including women and under-represented minorities. We are already ahead of most engineering institutions in terms of our representation of women and African Americans as undergraduates and faculty members, but we still have a long way to go to meet our aspirations of attracting women and minority engineers and creating a diverse and welcoming community.
Because technology permeates society and is increasingly taking center stage in determining how society will evolve, we must find ways to work closely with the other disciplines at Princeton. The scientists and engineers who create new technologies are often not involved in the significant policy decisions that result from their work. Moreover, they often do not consider important policy implications while the work is in progress. Our responsibility as educators is to ensure that our future engineers and scientists understand technology in its full societal context and to ensure that future policy makers are at least literate in the basic principles of science and engineering that drive these technologies.
Finally, we need to learn how to work effectively and efficiently with partners, including industry and other institutions. Many of the most important research and education initiatives are too big to be undertaken at a single university. We must learn how to benefit from institutions with different cultures and traditions, while preserving the many wonderful strengths of Princeton.
We’ll know we have reached our goals when Princeton springs to mind whenever other institutions are asked to identify leaders in the engineering field, whenever government and industry look for the best research partners, whenever prospective students seek the best engineering education. Given the enormous good will and support of Princeton alumni, we’ll be getting there soon!
Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Science