life after running an engineering department at a top university? Here's
what four former deans who spent years in the trenches have to say.
are disappointed when they step down from their appointments. Understandably
so. It's a position of power, influence, and intellectual stimulation.
It's a hard job to leave and even harder to make that next move
that will prove as rewarding from an ego and career perspective.
dean appointments are short-lived, rarely lasting more than 10 years.
So if you are strutting into the position in your early 40s, you're
moving on in your 50sfar from retirement age. And it's not
so unusual these days to be appointed in your 30s, as Dean Denice Denton
was at the University of Washington.
a common conundrum. What to do when your time is up? Maybe you seek
out a deanship at another school. Maybe you make a play for a provost
position. Maybe you go back to teaching.
seems like the easiest segue. But it isn't always the panacea one
might hope for after a decade in administration and fundraising, nose
to the grindstone. The field has changed in myriad of ways, dramatically
in many cases.
too, have changed. The teaching methods have new demands. It may sound
old-fashioned, but 10 years makes a huge difference in the methods,
subject areas, and psyche of the students. It all goes by in a blink,
when you're totally consumed with administrative duties and money
issues, not solving engineering problems.
some deans have broken through the barrier. John White, for instance,
used to be dean at Georgia Tech and became president of the University
of Arkansas. Henry Yang, former dean at Purdue, is now president at
the University of California, Santa Barbara.
are rare examples. So how hard is the next stage for these top-level
deans around the country? We've spoken to a handful of former deans
who have recently made the transition.
Ernest T. Smerdon
left his position at the University of Arizona in 1998, ten years to
the day after he moved into the job. I had only intended to spend
three years in the position, but it was hard to let go. Some people
stay on too long in administrative jobs and that worried me, but the
decision to step down was wrenching nonetheless, says Smerdon.
exactly slam the door on the academic engineering world. He chose to
stay on as a professor of civil engineering, but it took some adjusting.
As a dean, it's very important that you spend your energy
being a facilitator. The good strokes you get happen through other people's
success in the department, he says. That's a completely
different job from being an educator.
background in the field has an interesting twist. Prior to taking the
Arizona position, he held the Bess Harris Jones Centennial Professorship
in natural policy studies in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and taught
in the civil engineering department as well. It allowed him to combine
his teaching skills in two very different areas of education. Engineering
is closely related to society, he says. Engineering looks
with a global perspective and communicates societal problems that need
to be solved.
education is clearly his passion, Smerdon retired officially from the
university in June at the age of 71. I don't intend to stop
my engineering endeavors, he says. So he will continue to teach
and write his autobiography. The tale is one of deliberation and drive,
tracing his roots from a rural hamlet in Ritchey, Mo., a town with a
population of around 200, to attending the University of Missouri and
ascending to engineering prowess.
as a young man? I was surrounded by dairy cattle and crops. I
learned early on that hard work was good for you, and I learned that
I didn't want to be a farmer.
imagine he will just be lolling around in the Tucson hills smoothly
spinning his story. In 2001 alone he planned to travel to conferences
in South Africa, Oslo, and Berlin, to name a few. It's all about
education and learning. You've got to keep thinking out of
the box and be comfortable with change, he says.
kind of globe-trotting, there's no doubt he will. A good engineer
looks at a problem and breaks it down into fundamental aspects, he says.
And that's what he has been doing in challenging his future career
Lyle D. Feisel
is Dean Feisel's strong suit. The electrical engineer, who earned
a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. all from Iowa State University, dedicated 17
years as dean of engineering at SUNY Binghamton. Feisel bid adieu to
the program last June. Sure there is some post-partum depression,
he admits. But not a lot of trauma, he says.
confesses that what he will miss the most is what has always been the
highpoint of his year - commencement. I got such a sense of pride
just being there with the students. His goal in retirement was
to find a decent place to live and time to read and learn again. He
has, but he's wistful about his dean years and misses the interaction
with other academics and administrators. Feisel is too much in love
with the engineering profession to be totally disengaged.
think abstractly and I think that will help in my new life. he
says. I want to spend time being thoughtful. There wasn't
much time for that as dean.
founding dean of the engineering school, his contributions to its success
are legendary. When the school was started, there were 500 students;
now there are roughly 1,400.
Michael McGoff, associate provost for budgeting and planning, says Feisel
is famous for figuring out how to get not from A to B but from A to
Z. He is probably best known for aligning the fledgling school with
the engineering community and with CEOs of both national and local corporations.
has always tried to look out as far as he can and envision where he
is now and where he wants to be. Some things don't change. Feisel
and his wife Dorothy have purchased a retirement home in the town of
St. Michaels on Maryland's eastern shore.
have plenty of time for thinking while he sails the waters of the Chesapeake
Bay from the deck of his new 30-foot sailboat. I had sailed the
Chesapeake a few times, and we just kept coming back. So we decided
to buy a home to retire in St. Michaels. After being raised in
rural Iowa, that must be a dream.
Ray J. Bowen
small-town boy who fought his way up the academic ladder, Ray Bowen,
now 67, became a dean in 1981. Bowen grew up on a farm near Monroe,
Miss. The thought of ever graduating from the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology with a master's degree in 1957 and then going on
to the University of California, Berkeley for his Ph.D. was unthinkable.
I thought I'd like to study physics, he recalls. But
his small high school had no way to prepare him for such a course of
study. He managed to persuade his parents to let him travel down to
Monroe, where there was a bigger school, for his senior yearand
then MIT. I survived MIT, but not physics, Bowen remembers.
He quickly switched to chemical engineering.
it was time for a change of dean at the university. The writing was
on the wall. Budget woes plagued the programs and fundraising was all
consuming for Bowen. I had to make a change, he remembers.
And so did the university.
bag administrative duties and get back to the basics of why he became
an engineer in the first place. Time to recharge after 15 long years
of fighting for money to get the best professors and keep the department
growing and, of course, attract the best students.
his arrival at the university he continued to wear his hat as a professor
of chemical engineering. But it's not as easy as it once was. Stepping
back into the role of professor had its challenges. Relating to students
on a full-time basis required some new learning, and keeping up with
the literature was daunting. But he has thrown himself into the endeavor.
What you teach hasn't fundamentally changed, but the attitudes
of the students have, he says. Their pace is different and
their time constraints as well. He's had to learn a new way
of teaching to communicate with them and be more tolerant.
the problems he has found is that many of the students work part time
and don't have the hours to devote to their studies that he expects
them to. He now teaches classes part time and keeps office hours three
days a week, two quarters a year.
year after Bowen resigned, however, he took it slow, spending six weeks
traveling through Europe with his wife and writing a paper on the dynamics
of exothermicity. A large portion of this past year was spent organizing
the International Conglomerate for Dynamics of Reactive Systems, a group
of some 300 engineers from around the world who meet to discuss combustion
problems. He also advises small start-up companies like Fuel Cell Co.
may be passionate about combustion, but since his deandom ended, he
and his wife have stumbled upon a number of love-Eco-cruise tours. They've
spent weeks in the Galapagos and the Sea of Cortez, among other exotic
spots, studying ecology, snorkeling, and hiking. And, he adds, taking
lots of picturesonly 10 percent worth printing. Obviously, there
are some things you can't learn from studying combustion.
Earl H. Dowell
years, Dean Dowell reigned at Duke's School of Engineering, the
longest serving dean in Duke's century-plus program. That's
a tough gig to give up. Along the way, he never relinquished his role
as a professor of mechanical engineering. In 1999, he was named the
J.A. Jones Professor for mechanical engineering.
he dropped the dean title two years ago, he has co-written four journal
publications on such topics as Experimental Active Control of
a Typical Section Using a Trailing-Edge Flap for The Journal of
Aircraft. Airplanes are his thing. He's even had time to take gliding
lessons. And he's headed back to the lab to dig back into his research.
Dowell now goes three days a week to the lab and teaches one engineering
course every semester at Duke.
up near Champlain/ Urbana, Ill., there were always airplanes overhead.
He wondered where they were going, he explains. That's how it all
started, and he's been studying airplanes ever since.
as dean was extremely productive. Dowell tripled graduate school enrollment,
expanded the tenure-track faculty from 45 to 75, and developed a research
department that is 40 strong. As is the case with all the deans profiled
here, his job was to recruit faculty and raise money. If you don't
do those things well, you will be limited in what you can achieve,
notion of what engineering is all about has changed dramatically since
Dowell entered the field, and he's had some catching up to do.
But I was a faculty member long before I was a dean, and I still
love to teach. It's more fun, he says. If you
screw up as a dean, it's not just a personal failure, it's
a blow to the whole organization. Now I can make decisions that aren't
irreversible. I can make small mistakes, and it's okay. In
addition to teaching one course a semester, Dowell dabbles in consulting
work and researches nonlinear dynamics. The pressure has eased off.
But as his assistant so aptly put it, if he's this busy now, I'd
have hated to see him when he was dean.
the other past deans, Dowell still travels extensively to conferences,
but when he's home in Durham, he can often be found on the tennis
courts. He's an avid player and has been for years, even when he
was dean. I managed to make time in my schedule for it because
it was something that took everything out of my mindjust hitting
a ball. I must say not being dean has improved my game, he says
with a chuckle. Best shot: His serve.
Hannon is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.