Innovation in Service to Society

The new century has shown that our nation and indeed the world face a series of daunting challenges. Meeting these challenges successfully will require a new kind of leadership. It will require women and men with an analytical temperament, with an ability to frame problems and identify solutions and with the highly specialized technical knowledge needed to carry them out. In short, we must have leaders who are expert engineers.

But these leaders will require more than traditional engineering skills. Meeting these challenges will require engineers who can take advantage of engineering’s unique place at the intersection of disciplines, who can build coalitions and mobilize expertise from different fields of endeavor — from the sciences, commerce and law.

It will also require engineers who can communicate, manage and inspire in the face of unprecedented complexity and across cultures. It will require engineers with a broad ethical perspective and a deeply felt commitment to the common good. Most of all, it will require engineers with the capacity and the confidence to innovate.

This is precisely the kind of engineering leader that the School of Engineering and Applied Science is ideally equipped to produce. Thomas Jefferson founded the University explicitly to produce the informed leaders our republic needs to flourish, and this mission has shaped the Engineering School since it was founded 175 years ago.

"We must have leaders who are expert engineers."

an entrepreneurial faculty

The Engineering School’s ability to prepare future generations for leadership rests squarely on the ambition, talent and character of its faculty. Our faculty members are united by a desire to uncover knowledge and to find increasingly effective ways to convey this to their students. As with Jefferson’s original faculty, they teach by example as well as by precept.

For this reason, it is important to note that our faculty includes some of the most distinguished figures in engineering. We are proud to count 11 members of the National Academy of Engineering among our current and emeritus faculty. They include Joe Campbell, whose work in photodiodes was fundamental to the deployment of long-distance fiber optic networks, and Elmer Gaden, regarded as the father of biochemical engineering.

Our younger faculty is equally distinguished. Thirty-seven Engineering School faculty members have been singled out by the National Science Foundation for highly competitive Early CAREER Awards. This has enabled them to build research programs leading to advances in materials science, computer graphics and systems biology, among other fields.

Thanks to its creativity and expertise, our faculty has been notably successful in attracting grants from funding agencies at a time when government support for research is waning. The Engineering School has increased its research funding 45 percent over the last five years, to $61.13 million. For instance, a team led by aeronautical engineering professor James McDaniel was recently awarded a $10 million grant from NASA and the Air Force to develop analytical techniques needed to build a hypersonic aircraft. Biomedical engineering professor Kevin Janes has won research awards totaling $2.6 million to understand how networks of signaling pathways within cells coordinate cell decisions. This knowledge will be critical in developing next-generation cancer treatments.

preparing the next generation of engaged engineers

In 1922, William Mynn Thornton, the first dean of the Engineering School, began a process of reassessment and thoughtful educational innovation that has come to distinguish the School’s approach to the undergraduate curriculum. Thornton devised a five-year program to ensure that students would graduate with exposure to “liberal culture” and “training in research.” Ever since that time, the administrative leaders and the faculty of the School have continually sought ways to balance depth in engineering disciplines with an appreciation for such subjects as ethics, collaboration and communication.

Thornton’s innovations led directly to the institution of the fourthyear thesis requirement and the creation of the Department of English within the School, the predecessor of today’s Department of Science, Technology and Society. In recent years, the School has expanded the number of minors available to undergraduates. Particularly popular is the Engineering Business Minor, offered in conjunction with the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the McIntire School of Commerce. The Engineering School has also created a summer internship in science and technology policy, which has sent students to Richmond, Washington, Paris and Buenos Aires.

At a time when research and development, design, and manufacturing increasingly transcend borders, the Engineering School has taken a number of initiatives to make it easier for students to study abroad. The School has established exchange programs and research collaborations with Peking and Tsinghua universities in Beijing and Shanghai Jiao Tong University — and students have taken courses and worked in laboratories in a host of countries, including Germany, South Africa and Chile.

The Engineering School also encourages undergraduates to roll up their sleeves and get involved in substantial real-world research. We support students who wish to develop their own research and public service projects, providing guidance, contacts and connections to funding. Our Engineering Students Without Borders organization has undertaken projects in such places as Cameroon, South Africa and Belize, and students have worked with their colleagues in the School of Architecture on affordable, environmentally sound housing. In addition, faculty members welcome under-graduates into their laboratories, where the students become integral members of their research teams.

finding better ways to benefit society

Our vision for the Engineering School is not an ivory tower, but a tower of learning in the midst of society. Accordingly, one of our most important goals is to build partnerships that enable us to share our technological and educational expertise in ways that benefit others.

One area of focus is to ensure that the School contributes to economic development by moving the discoveries we make on Grounds to companies that can use them to improve processes or make new products. We recently received a Wallace H. Coulter Foundation grant, creating a $20 million endowment for translational research in biomedical engineering. This award recognizes procedures we have put in place that encourage researchers to make potential application a critical criterion for research design. Initiatives like the Applied Research Institute, which builds relationships between the University and the national intelligence community, and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) help us better coordinate our research with industry and government partners.

This spirit of public service motivates our educational outreach programs. The Engineering School was one of the pioneers in distance learning. Since 1983, we have been offering distance-learning courses to graduate students through the U.Va. Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program. In 2007, we introduced Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia, an initiative that enables students in the Virginia Community College System to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering science without leaving their communities. In this way, we are helping ensure that Virginia’s numerous technology-driven companies have the skilled engineers they need to grow and prosper and that citizens of the Commonwealth who seek to expand their opportunities can do so.