Whether you like college rankings or not, it’s hard to deny their influence on how institutions of higher education are perceived by students, parents, faculty, alumni, donors, and the media. Unfortunately the most prominent source for rankings overlooks a very important factor. That’s why I penned an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed making the case that U.S. News & World Report should include diversity as part of its ranking methodology. Please take a few minutes to read it.
Defining Tomorrow, the Strategic Plan of the College of Engineering, contains a vision statement that asserts that the College “… is globally recognized as the preferred institution … for all faculty who seek the best possible environment and opportunity for interdisciplinary and impactful research.” Also, a key objective outlined in the plan is to “sustain and enhance excellence in scholarship and research.” In so doing, the plan illuminates and reinforces the fact that identifying and recruiting world-class scholars to join our faculty is one of the most important functions of the dean’s office.
The future of Georgia Tech rests on assembling a distinguished faculty because it will be those individuals who help shape and define us in the decades to come. Recognizing our ability to establish and maintain world leadership in addressing some of the most challenging problems facing our society today requires us to seek opportunities to be impactful in both the educational and research arenas. These world-class scholars will help strengthen our efforts to attract and retain an excellent student body.
While there are a great many technological challenges facing society, our sights are set in the near term on defining the future in three key areas.
Energy: Few industries influence the quality and prosperity of human life as much as energy. Of the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering espoused by the National Academy of Engineering, arguably six either directly or indirectly deal with energy-related issues. Energy research at Georgia Tech spans a continuum from generation to storage to conversion to transmission and distribution to efficiency. In partnership with the Strategic Energy Institute, the College of Engineering will seek to build upon existing strength and seek interdisciplinary contributors to address these important issues in the upcoming hiring cycle.
Autonomy: Autonomy is worldwide trend affecting nearly every sector of commerce, including manufacturing, transportation, and consumer goods, just to name a few. In collaboration with the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, the College of Engineering will seek to bolster its already impressive portfolio of expertise in various aspects of robotics, machine learning, and interaction with autonomous systems.
Data-enabled Design and Manufacturing: Data science (or “big data”) is an area of tremendous potential for which the ultimate applications and outcomes remain largely untapped. In our next hiring cycle, the College of Engineering will endeavor to identify individuals capable of using data science to advance such disparate areas as systems design, materials & manufacturing, the “Internet of Things,” and life sciences.
Here at Georgia Tech, we conduct research that addresses the challenges facing society and improves the quality of life. This requires hiring faculty members with expertise that spans disciplines, has a high probability of measurable impact, and enhances our national stature and visibility. If we are successful in our faculty search in the areas we have identified, I believe we will do exactly that. Wish us luck.
It’s been a long time coming, but the Supreme Court has awarded affirmative action a big victory. In late June, the court weighed in on Abigail Fisher’s lawsuit against the University of Texas, and its ruling allows college officials to continue considering race as a factor in admissions.
But what does that really mean? There’s a lot of celebration, to be sure, but a lot of hand-wringing as well, and the court’s decision is unlikely to appease Americans who question affirmative action’s role.
As dean of engineering at Georgia Tech, I don’t play a role in admissions, and my university does not consider race when admitting new students. But I know firsthand the benefits of working and learning in a diverse setting. Georgia Tech’s engineering college is one of the most diverse in the country, and we graduate more women and minority engineers than anywhere else.
That means I’ve known plenty of students from underrepresented minorities, who amaze me with their talents and interests. Even students who may be the first members of their families to go to college, or students who were told when they were younger that they somehow weren’t good enough, can and do thrive here.
I’m reminded of a former student of mine, Cleon Davis, who as a child was placed in a class for students with learning disabilities. The truth was, his teachers didn’t want to deal with an active black child, so his mother worked hard to have him placed in regular classes. Eventually, Cleon found his way to Georgia Tech, where I was his thesis advisor as he earned his Ph.D.
Students of color aren’t the only ones who benefit from diversity here. Learning alongside peers from different backgrounds can offer new perspectives to students who may not have had much exposure to different viewpoints growing up.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case doesn’t close the door on future challenges to affirmative action. But for the time being, it allows the policy to stand, and it invites us to consider the value of diversity in our daily lives.
It makes my university a better place, and I’m grateful to have known so many students who felt the same.