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Strategic Plan Goal 2
Research with Impact

The School of Engineering Strategic Plan was developed to guide the School in the coming years as it transitions from a primarily education-focused school to a major research institution. Out of that process emerged six strategic goals to advance the School of Engineering mission and to strengthen its foundation.

The School of Engineering has been transitioning from a primarily undergraduate education-focused institution to a more research-intensive school over the past 25 years. Completing the transition, while maintaining Engineering School excellence in undergraduate education, requires a culture that values the contributions of both teaching and research to the School of Engineering/U.Va. mission. The research environment in the Engineering School must encourage and enable innovative, collaborative research and must value both high quality scholarship and contributions to the education of students via research.

Part of the strategic planning process was a critical evaluation of the current research strengths of the School. The analysis involved not only gathering information from department chairs and faculty but also a quantitative assessment of these research areas using a suite of generally accepted metrics (number of Ph.D. advisees, scholarly publications, invited lectures, awards and honors, and research expenditures) averaged over the last three years. It is important to note that the list of strengths below is a snapshot of current strengths and will no doubt change over time.

Identifying current research strengths will do the following:

  • Provides information to allow the School of Engineering to better project itself upwards and outwards.
  • Facilitates new collaborations inside and outside the Engineering School.
  • Identifies development and publicity opportunities.
  • Helps guide strategic faculty hiring decisions.

The analysis demonstrated that the School of Engineering has numerous current and emerging research strengths that are being applied to solve critical societal needs. The School also has important strengths in the fundamental engineering disciplines, enabling research that supports these needs. Four societal challenges capture much of the research strength within the School of Engineering:

  • Creating a sustainable future – There is a need to better manage our natural resources while providing sufficient energy for improved life.
  • Engineering improved health – Technology and quantitative understanding of living systems can be used to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of disease and to improve the human condition.
  • Advancing the cyber and physical infrastructure – Although the current cyber and physical infrastructure allows society to function in ways that would have been unknown in the not-too-distant past, there are many challenges to reinvigorating and expanding the reach of this field.
  • Providing personal and societal security – The need for advances in protecting personal privacy and societal security have become increasingly important as more personal and societal functions rely on technology.

Although these challenges are not inclusive of all cutting-edge research in the Engineering School, the following table illustrates how the current identified research strengths of the Engineering School map to the four societal needs. It is clear that there is substantial work involving the School in each of the four societal needs. Much of this work involves collaboration across the School, with others at U.Va., and with colleagues around the world. Future research opportunities will allow even greater contribution to these four societal challenges.

Key Actions

2.1 Increase faculty and graduate student scholarly productivity

Faculty and graduate students are the engine of the School of Engineering scholarly production. To broaden participation in research and increase scholarly productivity, the School of Engineering will undertake a comprehensive revision of existing policies and incentive programs. The key aspect of this will be a relentless focus on making better use of faculty time. Greater flexibility in the allocation of effort will allow faculty to better specialize and use processes that are more efficient. Increased staff and teaching assistant support will free additional faculty time for research. These changes will enable departments to set ambitious goals for scholarly productivity and provide them with the tools and flexibility to achieve their goals. Faculty will be provided with any strategic mentoring, partnerships, and collaborative environments that may be needed to stimulate the desired level of Engineering School activity overall.

2.2 Increase opportunities for internal and external collaboration

While individual researchers continue to expand the frontiers of knowledge, discoveries are increasingly made through collaboration across departments and schools. To encourage greater collaboration within the School of Engineering and beyond, the School will expand its own programs to bring researchers together, invest in tools to increase awareness of faculty activities and actively participate in University-wide efforts to build the “innovation ecosystem.”

2.3 Recruit faculty that will leverage and enhance School of Engineering research strengths

The faculty hiring process is one of the School of Engineering's principal tools to grow research. Through this process, the Engineering School will hire to enhance the diversity of Engineering faculty, connect areas of research strength and leverage established strengths to expand into emerging areas. Over the next 10 years, the School of Engineering will grow its tenure-track faculty from 140 to 170. A parallel increase in the technical support staff will enable the School to pursue even more challenging research topics.

2.4 Develop a fund to provide seed and matching funding for collaborative research

The School of Engineering will create a fund to provide seed and matching funding to support new research collaborations. Each $50,000 award will support a graduate student and will come through an annual call for proposals. Results of the awards will be presented to the Engineering School faculty annually.

2.5 Optimize impact and effectiveness of research centers

The School of Engineering will initiate a project to assess and benchmark the current Engineering School-wide research centers within the School (Applied Research Institute, NanoQuest, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion, etc.), against other highly successful research centers to see if there are additional recommendations which, if implemented, might enhance a center’s role and effectiveness in support of Engineering School research programs in terms of improved infrastructure or collaboration opportunities.

2.6 Increase undergraduate student participation in research

While the School of Engineering works to increase the scale of its research enterprise, the School will find new ways to bring that research into the undergraduate experience. Undergraduate student research is an important example of a high-impact practice for undergraduates. By more closely integrating its research, graduate and undergraduate programs, the School will become a model for research-based education.

Key Metrics

Key metrics to measure success are the following:

  • Scholarly productivity as measured by Ph.D./faculty, publications/faculty, citations/faculty, awards/faculty, patents, invited lectures and other output metrics.
  • Percentage of research-active faculty.
  • Total number of tenured and tenure-track faculty from 140 to 170.
  • Diversity of the School of Engineering faculty.
  • Research expenditures (target: $80 million in the next five yrs.).
  • ROI of seed investments (target: 4:1 direct cost increase to investment).
  • Number of proposals submitted/won as collaborative proposals.
  • Number of large-scale proposals (>$1 million/year) submitted/won.