The Scarlet Interviews — Tim Wei, Dean of EngineeringNov 15th, 2012 | By tfedderson2 | Category: 2012, Campus News, Issue, Nov. 15, Scarlet Interviews
Tim Wei has been dean of UNL’s College of Engineering since June 2011. Previously he was a professor and led the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He remains an active researcher with an interest in coupling fundamental fluid dynamics experiments with critical technologies of socio-technological importance. Scarlet editor Troy Fedderson recently sat down with Wei to discuss his experience as dean and future of Nebraska Engineering.
What’s your favorite part of being dean of Nebraska Engineering?
That would be the opportunity to work with and grow a community where we build a great Big Ten college of engineering.
What has impressed you most about the engineering program here at UNL?
I have been truly impressed by the passion and the commitment of everybody — faculty, staff, students, alumni, central administration and citizens from across the state — for building a great college of engineering. There is a real commitment to offering a quality engineering education program that serves the state and the nation.
How does Nebraska Engineering stack up against related Big Ten programs?
Joining the Big Ten is a phenomenal opportunity. Nebraska Engineering offers the same quality and has the same suite of strengths as other Big Ten schools. We offer world-class research programs and we have people who are internationally renowned in a variety of areas. What we don’t necessarily have is the same volume in terms of people and research that many other Big Ten universities have. We definitely have some growing to do when compared to Big Ten peers.
What are your long-term plans for the college?
We are building a community around a shared vision of outstanding engineering education. We have established three guiding principles and five fundamentals (available at http://go.unl.edu/ns5), which we are using to drive the college toward becoming a leader in undergraduate education and science research.
Also, this is a college that is in two cities with a mission to serve the entire state. What we need to be is one college where we leverage the strengths, opportunities and resources of each of those geographic locations to the advantage of all students and the state at large. In order to really create a world-class engineering education structure and layer on top of that world-class research and engineering service, we have to look at the way the college is structured now and eliminate overlaps and duplicative efforts. Change is never easy, but I think we have the advantage of having some really good and committed people.
What is NUVIEW and how does it fit into the college’s strategic plans?
One of the challenges in our strategic plan is to give every student in the college a sense that they are at the epicenter of the learning experience regardless of their physical location. NUVIEW is a projection system being designed to make students, whether they are in a classroom in Omaha or Lincoln, feel like they are all in one classroom together. The technology will include real-time interactions between students and instructors. We were really hoping to roll it out in a classroom on our two campuses in January, but it may not be available until fall. Nebraska Engineering is leading the charge in this technology and we hope to deploy it broader to more than just one classroom. This is a tremendous opportunity for our campuses in Lincoln and Omaha to connect ourselves as one community. Once we show you can do this between Lincoln and Omaha, then it can be done anywhere around the world and we plan to be as helpful as we can with anybody who wants to develop or use the technology. We also hope that this project is going to be one of the things that establish Nebraska Engineering as a leader in the field of engineering education.
What is the college doing to increase student enrollment and retention?
The parallel piece to recruitment is retention. The strongest element of retention is student services. The strongest element of student services is student advising. So, we have to create an environment where every student knows and feels like there is professional staff, including faculty, here in the college that personally cares about their success and is committed to doing everything they can to help that student graduate in a timely manner. Right now, we are working with to build up those structures. Once we have those structures in place, they will be among the compelling features of the college that are attractive to potential students. By building those structures, we will be helping Admissions help us with recruitment.
How important is it to have faculty leading teaching in the classroom?
We are on a path to becoming a great research college of engineering. But, the starting point has to be that you offer an excellent engineering education. That’s number one of our five fundamentals. It is an expectation that every faculty member will teach and it is an expectation that every faculty member will teach well. But that does not mean that they all will teach a lot. As we move toward becoming a research-intensive college, each individual faculty member on average will teach fewer courses than perhaps they are teaching now. That will be balanced by an opportunity to bring in a core of permanent professional teaching faculty.
Should the college be actively engaged with engineering colleagues outside academia?
That is fundamental number four — to engage and partner with our constituent communities. The industry and government are the recipients of students we train. We need to be in close communication with them to deliver the best possible engineering workforce. They are the people in the marketplace, seeing and knowing where they as companies or the broader industry are headed. They are the ones that will help us define what our research and technology directions are. And, they are the partners with who we will solve those problems.
Why is it important to you to continue your research in fluid dynamics?
Because it’s stuff that I’m really interested in and we’ve been trying to develop for the last 10 years. We’re actually getting close now and I really want to see it through to completion. And from a leadership perspective, it’s leadership by example.
How did you get interested in creating a conference on megacities?
The idea is that we are a society of 7 billion people today. In 100 years, at the dawn of the 22nd century, we will likely be a global society of 15 to 20 billion people and the structure of society is going to be very much built around megacities. The conference is planned for next year and will be focused on the built environment of for the 22nd century — what will it look like in terms of buildings, entertainment, the environment, how you feed that many people, energy needs, etc. The primary goal is to help Nebraska Engineering articulate research and teaching directions in the broad fields of construction and infrastructure. The second goal is to establish Nebraska Engineering as a global thought leader. With our strengths in civil engineering and the Durham School of Architectural Engineering, this is a natural focus.
What do you do for fun?
I have a beautiful wife and two incredible kids. We ski together. We play tennis together. I just love spending time with them.
If you had to vacate your office due to an emergency, what is the one thing you could not leave behind?
When I left Rutgers, we arranged for movers to come and take everything up to Rensselaer. As I was leaving my office, I thought I have these great pictures of my family and these toys and I just couldn’t trust movers to move those. So I put them in four boxes and carried them to the car to make sure they were safe. So, I would choose those photos and toys.