First-rate faculty. Talented students. Innovative research. Professionalism. All are hallmarks of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering under the leadership of Dean Kenneth F. Galloway. As he prepares to return to teaching and research—and continues his role as a national leader in engineering education—Galloway sat down with Vanderbilt Engineering magazine to reflect on the School of Engineering’s past and look to the future.
The engineering school is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. When you arrived in 1996, you were only its eighth dean. How did it feel to become part of that long history?
It’s been a wonderful experience. Vanderbilt is truly a great university. I’ve seen it improve in the time I’ve been here—in the quality of students, quality of faculty, in national recognition. So it’s been a wonderful time to be here. I’m happy to have been part of a very large team, certainly in the engineering school, that helped make this happen. No one person can say, “I made this happen.”
Under your leadership, research expenditures from external sources grew from less than $10 million to $60 million annually at a time when federal resources were dwindling. What has spurred such tremendous growth, and what are the prospects for the future?
Overall, I’ve been amazed at what our faculty has been able to do with the resources they have. We have a tremendous, tremendous faculty—who have brought major research dollars to Vanderbilt—and that is improving every year. The young people we hire are among the very best in their fields. The emphasis here is still on teaching, but our faculty is very involved at the forefront of their research fields. They’ve been challenged and they’ve risen to the challenge. There’s a lot of really good stuff going on. Not in any one department and not one small group of people. In every department, there are many contributors, many of whom are among the best in the world at what they do. I’m very proud of our young faculty who won National Science Foundation CAREER Awards. We’ve had 28 since the year 2000.
What is the biggest challenge facing the school?
We’re going to face a lot of challenges in the future in terms of federal funding. It’s impossible to know what the federal government is going to do in terms of providing funding to academic engineering. Absolutely impossible.
What other major challenges do you foresee?
It’s always about people, space and money. The engineering school needs additional space due to the growth of our research programs. We have had some very generous alumni and donors, particularly during the Shape the Future campaign—donors gave $85.4 million to the engineering school alone and added 55 new endowed student scholarships during the campaign. But as the reputation of the university and the reputation of the engineering school have grown, we do have the opportunity to hire very, very talented faculty members, and we have done so, but we have missed hiring some because we had inadequate laboratory space for research programs. Bottom line: The faculty needs to grow and research programs need more space.
What have been some of your most satisfying moments as dean?
“We have a tremendous, tremendous faculty . . . many of whom are among the best in the world at what they do.”
One of the most enjoyable things I get to do is see how well our alumni are doing. I’m always impressed by what nice people they are and how they’re still very interested in the university. Just this morning I had breakfast with Sandy Cochran (BE’80), CEO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. She’s a great example of someone who used the problem-solving skills and analytical skills of an engineer to become a very successful businessperson. C.J. Warner (BE’80), one of her classmates, is the president of Sapphire Energy, a company that’s trying to extract oil from algae. We have a former student who founded Google Earth, Chikai Ohazama (BE’94), and is now a project manager for Google, and another who is the chief technology guy at Facebook, Jeffrey Rothschild (BA’77, MS’79). One of our graduates, David Dyer (BE’71), was president of Lands’ End. He engineered the sale of that company to Sears and is now the president of Chico’s. Joe Dorris (BE’65) is the former president of Futaba Corporation of America. You see Vanderbilt engineers very often moving to leadership positions. I think they get a broader education at Vanderbilt.
How would you describe the current students in Vanderbilt engineering?
Our students are the best at Vanderbilt. We have benefited from the university’s growth in the national perception of its quality. In 1986, the average SAT score of incoming freshmen in engineering was 1280. Today, it is 1485. This year, we had 5,343 applicants for 320 spaces. Vanderbilt engineering is also very fortunate in the sense that it’s always been thought of as a good place for women to study. About one-third of our students are women—that’s about twice the national average.
What do you think is unique about the educational experience at Vanderbilt?
Vanderbilt is not a typical engineering school. We’re not a tech school, so our students have opportunities to take courses in the College of Arts and Science, to be part of the university. It’s a little different place to study engineering.
What’s next for you? We understand it involves a national role in advocating for engineering education.
I have just been elected president-elect of the American Society for Engineering Education, starting in June and assuming the presidency in June 2013. This will occupy a good deal of my time for the next two years. It’s a pivotal time in the leadership of the society as we increase our focus on public advocacy for engineering and engineering technology education with decision makers in academia, industry and government.
My goals will be to continue ASEE’s efforts in communicating the excitement of engineering to students in K-12; in promoting diversity in the engineering workforce; in preparing students for a globalized economy, and in encouraging collaboration between academia and industry.
Also, I plan to return teaching and research within the Radiation Effects Research Group at Vanderbilt. The RER has a strong research portfolio that supports the federal government in radiation effects and microelectronics research for space applications.