The winds of change are evident at Georgia Tech, particularly in the College of Engineering. There are new faces and new leadership—people who are committed to manifesting change in order to move Georgia Tech, the College of Engineering, and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) to their highest aspirations. As the technological university of the twenty-first century, Georgia Tech has to be flexible, adaptable, and continually improving and transforming. These new leaders represent the new face of Georgia Tech and engineering. They bring with them not only a sense of urgency, but new perspectives, strategies, and ideas.
G. P. “Bud” Peterson, president of Georgia Tech, arrived in April 2009. He was followed by Rafael L. Bras, who became provost in September 2010. Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering, and Jane Ammons, the H. Milton and Carolyn J. Stewart School Chair at ISyE, both started their new duties on July 1, 2011.
From their diverse backgrounds, these Georgia Tech leaders are crafting a vision of the future. Looking forward, they are envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view to lead Georgia Tech from excellence to preeminence. The four recently shared their thoughts on Tech’s path forward.
There is a lot of discussion regarding the “Grand Challenges for Engineering” for the twenty-first century—some of which are health, clean energy, national security, and education and lifelong learning. What is Georgia Tech’s role in meeting these challenges?
Peterson: We believe that over the next twenty-five years, many of the world’s most critical problems will be solved at research and educational institutions like Georgia Tech. We’re already working on breakthroughs in a number of fields.
Bras: Our tradition is not only to create knowledge but also to use that knowledge for the betterment of society. The Georgia Tech Strategic Plan states: “Georgia Tech has accepted the challenge to create the conditions that lead to solving critical global problems. Rather than settle for incremental steps forward, we have set forth a course to facilitate bold and deliberate contributions to human progress.”
May: As the proprietor of the largest, most diverse, and one of the best engineering programs in the nation, it is incumbent upon Georgia Tech to be a leader in creating solutions and empowering students to meet societal challenges. The “Grand Challenges” are so named because they will require significant time, effort, and resources by a variety of constituencies to resolve them.
Ammons: Georgia Tech faculty, students, and alumni are creative, bold, solution-driven leaders when addressing the complex grand challenges of today. ISyE leaders are particularly equipped with holistic systems thinking approaches. Their success and impacts to date make us optimistic as we cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.
How can we help stimulate future collaborations of engineers with social scientists, industry, government, business, and other friends of the Institute to address complex societal issues?
Peterson: Tech has a long track record of creating collaborative partnerships with government, business, and industry, and we must continue. New interdisciplinary fields are emerging that span technology, science, policy, business, law, and the arts. Our success will depend on our ability to utilize science and technology to build on our history of excellence and shape our future.
Ammons: We celebrate the many ways that ISyE faculty, students, and alumni have collaborated with our disciplinary partners as well as business, government, and not-for-profit organizations to improve complex societal issues. Examples include our need for national economic competitiveness in manufacturing and supply chain engineering, our critical healthcare delivery systems, important environmental and sustainability thrusts, and humanitarian logistics and disaster relief. We will stimulate future collaborations by building on these successes and developing our students as leaders with systems thinking and collaborative mindsets.
How do we leverage our state and national leadership roles to advance our global aspirations?
Peterson: During the past two decades, Tech has grown into a globalized university, with partnerships in more than thirty countries and campuses and operations in France, Ireland, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and China. Our Logistics Innovation and Research Center established last year in Panama, and the new Trade and Logistics Innovation Center in Mexico are prime examples of how we have leveraged our leadership and partnered internationally on projects that will benefit several countries, including the United States.
Bras: Tech is already a global university. The Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings place Tech tenth among the world engineering and technology universities. More than 40 percent of our undergraduate students have an international experience, far more than most competitors. Through the prominent leadership roles of many among our faculty and our globalization efforts, we are in a unique position to propel our reputation for excellence to a new, very high level.
May: During the last two decades, the College of Engineering has played a leadership role in establishing Tech’s global reputation. Not only do these activities better prepare our graduates for an increasingly “flatter” world, but they also allow the university to have better access to international student and faculty talent, to partner more seamlessly with multinational corporations, and to continue to build its brand.
What can be done to heighten interest in engineering and science education and research to increase the visibility and importance of these areas to society?
Bras: First we need to articulate the excitement of the creative nature of science and engineering, the value we bring to society as knowledge and wealth creators and drivers of progress, our role as providers of solutions to societal problems, and our capacity to transform and preserve life. Second, we must continue outreach efforts to K-12 education—that leaky pipeline must be fixed. And third, we must plug our own leaky pipeline by improving the delivery of our education, making it exciting, rewarding, and fun. Technology can help in that task.
May: Research shows that the general public still has a poor understanding of what engineers do. Data suggest that the public believes engineers are not as engaged with societal and community concerns as scientists or as likely to play a role in saving lives. When judging the relative prestige of professions, people tend to place engineering below medicine, nursing, science, or teaching.
As engineers, we clearly have a vested personal interest in more people having an accurate and positive impression of engineering. In addition, a better understanding of engineering would encourage students—particularly women and underrepresented minorities—to pursue engineering careers.
A consistent effort by the College of Engineering and its constituents can create positive momentum toward making engineering more appealing and better understood by students, educators, parents, policymakers, and society at large.
Peterson: Einstein once said that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. I believe we’re experiencing this now as our nation and our state look for answers to growing globalization, the need for stronger domestic manufacturing, the need for innovation and getting those innovations to the marketplace to help create a stronger economy and more jobs, and the need to prepare the workforce for the future. Georgia Tech has a seat at the table for President Obama’s new Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. Georgia Tech is a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and is involved in four of the five “Race to the Top” projects recently selected by the state for funding. Today, we’re helping to recruit and educate tomorrow’s leaders in the STEM fields.
Ammons: We have a mandate to spread the excitement and creativity of science and engineering, including its role in creating wealth, jobs, and making our world a better place. From K-12 outreach to more inspiring hands-on learning experiences at the college level, we need to cultivate the spirit of the National Academy of Engineering’s “Changing the Conversation” to inspire our current generation of engineering students that “Dreams Need Doing.”
What should we be doing to prepare our graduates with the skills necessary to be successful and to adapt, change, and advance in a truly global marketplace?
Ammons: Perhaps our task is as much about helping students “learn how to learn” and being stewards of their own intellectual and interpersonal development as it is understanding current knowledge and technology. They face a world with increasing technical and social change that will require them to continually increase the first and second derivatives of their personal growth and adaptation.
Peterson: Technology changes so rapidly that our graduates must commit to lifelong learning. I also feel that interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary experience is becoming a must. And, we need to continue to prepare leaders who are both innovative and entrepreneurial.
Bras: We cannot forget that an educated person needs understanding of much more than just science and engineering. We must provide our students with the communication skills, the knowledge of cultures and societies, and the social awareness and sensitivities to lead wherever they are.
May: We have the most talented students that we have ever had in the history of the Institute. These students have grown up with nearly instantaneous and ubiquitous access to information. Given these realities, it makes little sense to educate them exclusively using traditional methods in traditional engineering curricula. On the contrary, our objective must be to empower our students to be independent learners and fearless in the face of complex problems. To accomplish this, the educational experience must maximize flexibility, have a multidisciplinary orientation, and encourage thinking that facilitates the creation of solutions.
How is the changing availability of resources affecting our students and faculty both near- and long-term?
Bras: During the past three years, the state support of Georgia Tech has been reduced by more than 90 million dollars. Although we have recovered a portion of that loss with tuition and other income, the overall support from the state is down to less than 20 percent of total annual expenses. Staff and faculty are doing more with a lot less, our student-to-faculty ratios are higher than ever, beyond what they should be to ensure continuing excellence. We will need to think of new revenue-generation ideas, new ways of controlling costs, and new ways of delivering education without sacrificing quality and excellence.
Ammons: ISyE faculty, staff, and students have been significantly impacted by the reduction in resources. ISyE has one of the largest student-to-faculty ratios of any Georgia Tech unit, and our students are frustrated by the very large class sizes and significant waiting lists for classes. On the positive side, our faculty and staff have been creatively seeking new revenue sources, controlling costs, and innovating in the classroom.
May: As we know, student and faculty interaction is also critically important and inextricably linked to the student-to- faculty ratio. The quality of student and faculty interaction will definitely improve with a more manageable ratio. Our students want and deserve an improved environment for intellectual exchange, and we are committed to that objective.
Peterson: We’re all feeling the pinch of this global recession in one way or another, and it is definitely impacting higher education. Students have increased cost-sharing in their education. We continue to preserve the quality of our academic programs to ensure that we are able to provide an educational experience consistent with the very best institutions in the country. In times like these, we are particularly grateful to members of the Georgia Tech family, friends, and supporters who have contributed to Campaign Georgia Tech.
What is your vision for further developing the diversity of our students, staff, and faculty to leverage the diverse talent and perspective that is needed to solve the important societal problems?
May: The economy is critically dependent on the talents and knowledge of a diverse and available technical workforce. U.S. jobs are growing fastest in areas that require knowledge and skills stemming from a strong grasp of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In some areas— particularly in computer and information technology— business leaders are warning of a critical shortage in skilled domestic workers that is threatening their ability to compete in the global marketplace. To realize a diverse technical workforce, the educational environment for underrepresented engineering students must be systematically improved across all levels of the kindergarten to PhD educational continuum.
Particular attention must be paid to transition points along that continuum—for example, from high school to college, college to graduate school, and graduate school to the workforce. At Georgia Tech, we’ve seen that a key factor for motivating students to pursue advanced degrees and research careers in STEM is a fruitful research experience as an undergraduate. As the nation’s most diverse engineering college, this is nothing short of an obligation for us.
Peterson: We are continuing to strengthen our national leadership position in the total number of engineering degrees awarded to underrepresented minority students and women. And, we now have a number of programs in place to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities in all of the academic programs we offer—not just engineering—and in the past three years, we have increased the number of underrepresented minorities in the freshman class by nearly 40 percent and women by 8 percent. As we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the matriculation of the first black students at Tech, we are reminded of how far we have come and how much more we need to do to recruit, develop, retain, and engage a diverse cadre of students, faculty, and staff to create a campus community that exemplifies the best in all of us and fosters inclusive excellence.
Are there any capabilities, human or institutional, that we have that are under-developed or under- utilized, and what should we do about that?
Ammons: The heart of Georgia Tech is our people—our students, alumni, staff, and faculty. We have the opportunity to grow stronger and more impactful as we enhance the diversity of talent and perspective in people and our Georgia Tech leadership.
May: Our human resources—faculty, staff, alumni, and students—are our greatest asset. I would like to see us make greater use of these resources by identifying and utilizing more mechanisms for these constituencies to provide substantive input to our decision-making processes. We have access to many smart, gifted, and dedicated people. If two heads are better than one, then surely we as leaders can benefit from our people.
Bras: Of course, every organization can improve. We have an enormous opportunity to transform education with the opening of the G. Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons. We have an opportunity to reinvent the delivery of undergraduate education and redefine the role of libraries as a center of learning.
Peterson: As we create a more inclusive environment and campus community, we will be even more effective in realizing our full potential. In addition, we must continue to think and plan long term, looking at the big picture. And, without a doubt, the biggest wins will come through collaborative partnerships, within disciplines, with other universities, with government, business and industry, and with our alumni.
What are the things Georgia Tech should be most proud of as an organization, and why?
Peterson: Our people! Georgia Tech students, faculty, staff, and alumni are developing innovations, conducting breakthrough research, saving lives, and changing the world.
May: Georgia Tech has a culture of excellence. We believe in going far beyond the ordinary to pursue the extraordinary— in academics, technology, research, and service. We have a rich culture characterized by attributes such as rigor, pragmatism, collegiality, entrepreneurship, and diversity. Since its inception, Georgia Tech has embraced a “can do” spirit that is evident throughout all facets of campus.
Ammons: Our Georgia Tech core—the quality, drive, commitment, and successes of students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
Bras: We should be most proud of our students, past and future. We must be proud of our legacy of offering opportunity to all willing to work hard, many of whom are the first generation of college students in their families. We must find a way of making sure that cost is never an impediment to any meritorious candidate.
From your perspective is there a message or call to action we need to deliver to our constituents?
Ammons: Our call to action is clear: let’s work together to address the important needs of today’s world while developing well-prepared leaders of tomorrow.
May: The challenge in sustaining and enhancing the Georgia Tech culture requires an intellectual shift in focus from merely training technical professionals to empowering leaders capable of creating the solutions required by the global society. Within the College of Engineering, we will focus on the Georgia Tech global brand through fostering innovation, leadership, strong student-faculty relationships, and interdisciplinary studies.
Bras: “What does Georgia Tech think?” will be a common question in research, business, the media, and government. The only thing I have to add is to ask all alumni, students, staff, and faculty not to wait until asked—let’s tell the world what we think.
Peterson: Our Industrial and Systems Engineering program is the best in the nation, and it is because of the commitment and quality of our people. In addition to being proud of your alma mater, we challenge you to find ways to partner with the Institute and to help us develop leaders for the next generation.
Special thanks to Kay Kinard and Patti Futrell for their contributions and assistance with this article.
Industrial and Systems Engineering