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American Society for Engineering EducationNOVEMBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 3 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
Fields of Fuel - By Bethany Halford
Higher Ambitions - By Alvin P. Sanoff
The Burden of Plagiarism - By Thomas K. Grose

REFRACTIONS: Identifying Ourselves - By Henry Petroski
LAST WORD: Gender Bias in Academe - By Alice Merner Agogino

Piecing It All Together: The Learning Factory provides engineering students with a more hands-on learning experience. By Lynne Shallcross
Book Review: The Dance of Molecules: How Nanotechnology Is Changing Our Lives - Reviewed By Robin Tatu
YEAR OF DIALOGUE: A Conversation With a Center- By Karl A. Smith
On Campus: Winning Combination - By Lynne Shallcross

FEATURE: Higher Ambitions - University of Maryland President Dan Mote Jr. is pushing to make his school a top 10 research university. By Alvin P. SanoffFEATURE: Higher Ambitions - University of Maryland President Dan Mote Jr. is pushing to make his school a top 10 research university. By Alvin P. Sanoff - PHOTOGRAPHY BY CADE MARTIN  


C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr. took the road less traveled to the presidency of the University of Maryland’s flagship campus at College Park. Unlike most engineering scholars who become campus CEOs, Mote did not follow a traditional academic route to the top. His path to the presidency took him through the development office at his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley.

In the early ’90s, Mote was embarked on a traditional academic career. He was chair of Berkeley’s nationally renowned mechanical engineering department and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Then, the university’s chancellor, a former departmental colleague, came to him with an unusual offer. He asked Mote to become Berkeley’s chief fundraiser. The official title was vice chancellor for university relations and president of the UC Berkeley Foundation.

Mote had deep affection for the university. He had spent most of his academic life there and had earned all of his degrees from the institution. But what he knew about fundraising would not fill a test tube. He didn’t even know where the development office was located.

Still, Mote, an avid skier and sailor, has a sense of adventure. “I went home, spoke to my wife, thought about it and realized that if I could do something transformational, it would be a golden opportunity,” he recalls. “My wife and I decided that if they would let me raise $1 billion that would make it worth it.” The chancellor accepted Mote’s proposal.

Mote drew on his engineering background to develop what proved to be a successful $1.1 billion fundraising campaign. “I knew how to put things together to solve big problems,” he explains.

As the campaign was entering its final phase, Mote received a call from a committee searching for a new president for Maryland’s flagship campus. The panel said it wanted his advice. He agreed to give the group one day of consulting time and met with panel members at a hotel near Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia, about an hour from the campus in College Park. “It became apparent that they were interested in me and my ideas,” he recalls. Ten days later, Mote was invited to a one-hour meeting in Baltimore with the Maryland system’s leaders and was offered the presidency. The first time he actually set foot on the College Park campus was at the press conference announcing his appointment.

Mote was willing to move across the country from his native California because he felt the Maryland presidency offered the opportunity to take an institution that was already on the upswing and move it into the ranks of the top 10 public research universities. It is currently ranked 18th by U.S. News & World Report, 12 places higher than its ranking shortly after Mote assumed the presidency in 1998.

Narrowing the Gap

To show how serious he is about reaching the top 10, Mote benchmarks the university’s progress against that of five higher-ranked public institutions—Berkeley, UCLA, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mote and others at College Park believe that their school is narrowing the gap with the other institutions. For example, U.S. News now places Maryland’s graduate engineering program on the same level as UCLA’s, and its computer science program is more highly ranked than those at UCLA, Chapel Hill and Ann Arbor.

Mote has worked aggressively to capitalize on what he calls College Park’s “unfair advantage”—the university’s proximity to government agencies in nearby Washington and in the Maryland suburbs, where College Park is located. The university is not far from such federal research institutions as the National Institutes of Health, the National Security Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Under Mote’s leadership, the university has developed partnerships with government agencies and received a number of federal grants for such projects as a social and behavioral research center on terrorism and a national research and education project on the avian flu. The university has partnered with government agencies on a Center for the Advanced Study of Language and an Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, which will focus on such subjects as climate variability and change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is locating its Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in the university’s research and technology park, which adjoins the campus. Between 2000 and 2005, research and contract dollars flowing to the university have increased from $262 to $329 million, but that does not satisfy Mote. He believes that figure should be closer to $500 million.

HE HAS HIGH STANDARDS AND IS AN ENERGETIC, ALMOST INEXHAUSTIBLE PRESENCE. HE IS A WALKING COMPENDIUM OF POSITIVE FACTOIDS ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY AND LIVES FOR THE NEXT ACHIEVEMENT.Mote has sought to put the university on the cutting edge of scientific research. Last year, the university opened the Maryland Center for Integrated Nano Science and Engineering. Norma Allewell, whom Mote lured away from Harvard to become dean of a newly constituted College of Chemical & Life Sciences, says that the president has made building up the biosciences one of his top priorities and was able to secure funding from the state for a new facility. She quotes Mote as having told the state legislature that “there will be no great research university in the coming decades that is not excellent in the biosciences.”

Early in his presidency, in the face of strong opposition from the state higher education system, Mote persuaded the legislature that, as the state’s flagship, College Park needed to have its own board dedicated to advancing the institution. Maryland’s board has helped to push the university forward. During Mote’s tenure, the amount of money raised annually has climbed from $77 million to $130 million, and the number of gifts of $50,000 and above has risen from 134 in fiscal 2000 to 236 in the fiscal year that just ended.

John Brophy, who recently stepped down as the board’s chair, says that Mote “has some of the same characteristics of great CEOs I have worked for. He has high standards and is an energetic, almost inexhaustible presence. He is a walking compendium of positive factoids about the university and lives for the next achievement.” Brophy’s successor as board chair, Bill Mayer, says that Mote has single handedly changed the culture at College Park for the better as a result of his Berkeley experience. “He comes from an organization that is used to being on top,” Mayer says, “and that translates into an attitude of ‘what do you mean we can’t do that?’ ”

Those who work with Mote describe him as tough-minded but also a very good listener. “He knows when to be gentle and soft-spoken and when to be tough and assertive,” says Nariman Farvardin, dean of the university’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. Mote says his years as Berkeley’s chief fundraiser taught him “an extraordinarily important lesson. Always walk in the other guy’s shoes. I learned to think in terms of the other person’s point of view.”

Mote says that a university president has little real authority, other than the power of persuasion. “You have to inspire people,” he says, so that they can see ideas as important not just to the institution but to their own interests. “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit,” he says.

Allewell calls Mote “a visionary who is very creative in solving all kinds of problems.” She says his background in engineering manifests itself in his approach to issues. “He thinks in terms of forces, momentum and probably friction,” she says. “But as he has gotten to know the university better, his range of metaphors has expanded.”
Mote, at 69, rarely seems to rest. He keeps an intense travel schedule and when he is on campus often hosts social gatherings at his home. He even finds time to review the dossiers of faculty members up for promotion. Farvardin says Mote “reads every dossier from beginning to end and marks it up.”

Mote also makes time for public service. He was a member of the National Academies blue-ribbon committee that produced the high-profile report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which concluded that a series of major initiatives are needed if the nation is to maintain its competitive edge. The report’s recommendations include: strategies to produce more math and science teachers; ways to strengthen the skills of current teachers: and a significant increase in federal investment in basic research.

Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, who served as chair of the committee, says that not only did Mote play a valuable role in its deliberations, but once the report was issued last year he made a special effort to meet with members of Congress and the press to explain the potential crisis facing the nation if it does not put additional resources into math and science education and basic research. “He viewed the completion of the report as the start of his effort,” Augustine says. Using the report as a jumping-off point, Mote arranged for a one-day summit at College Park to discuss steps the state of Maryland needs to take to maintain its own competitive edge. As far as Mote is concerned, the economic futures of the state and of the university are inextricably intertwined. Mote’s success in making that point with legislators and business leaders has proved crucial to propelling the university forward, and he has no intention of letting up now. After all, there’s still that top 10 ranking to achieve.

Alvin P. Sanoff is a freelance writer who specializes in higher education.




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American Society for Engineering Education