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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
What Price Security? - By THOMAS K. GROSE
Team Player - ALVIN P. SANOFF
A Network of a Different Stripe - By DON BOROUGHS

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
Refractions: Confusing Calendars - By Henry Petroski
ASEE TODAY
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Why Not Here? BY CAROLYN WILLIAMS

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Click. Build. Learn. Digital K-12 engineering courses expand with stress on quality, fun. BY BARBARA MATHIAS-RIEGEL
JEE SELECTS: The ‘Random Madness’ of Work - BY JAMES TREVELYAN
ON THE SHELF: Chindia Rising - BY ROBIN TATU


BACK ISSUES







 
FEATURE: Team Player - FOOTBALL OPENED DOORS, BUT ENGINEERING ‘OPENED THE WORLD’ FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE’S NEW PRESIDENT. BY ALVIN P. SANOFF - PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHAD DOWLINGFEATURE: Team Player - FOOTBALL OPENED DOORS, BUT ENGINEERING ‘OPENED THE WORLD’ FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE’S NEW PRESIDENT. BY ALVIN P. SANOFF - PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHAD DOWLING  


PATRICK HARKER’S FIRST visit to the University of Delaware’s campus occurred some 30 years ago when, as a high-school student, he took a tour to see whether it seemed like the right choice for an aspiring engineer who was also an outstanding football player. He liked Delaware well enough but opted for an Ivy League education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Harker came full circle when he returned to Delaware for a second visit last year. This was a recruiting trip of a different sort. Harker was on campus as a finalist for the university presidency, and this time Delaware got its man. At the age of 48, Harker assumed the top post on July 1.

In the three decades between the two visits, Harker built a distinguished—and unusual—career that bridged the worlds of engineering and business. After an injury during his junior year ended his days playing defensive tackle, Harker focused more intensely on engineering. A professor of civil engineering hired Harker to work in his lab and encouraged him to write a paper that won a national competition conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Football opened the door to an Ivy League school for me,” says Harker, who grew up in a working-class family in southern New Jersey. “Now, here I was presenting a paper that opened the world to me.”

Harker also came under the wing of an adjunct faculty member who ran an engineering consulting firm that had been hired to help redesign the New York City subway system. The faculty member employed Harker to work on the project.

“These experiences and the two faculty members changed the way I thought about the world,” says Harker. “Getting hurt playing football was probably the best thing that happened to me. I learned that if you are open to opportunities, wonderful things can happen.”

By the time he was a senior at Penn, Harker had begun graduate work in civil engineering. He earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in the field as well as a master’s in economics. After he spent a year teaching at the University of California at Santa Barbara, family considerations brought him back to the East Coast.

Harker had no intention of returning to Penn. In fact, he was ready to take a position at another school when he received an offer from his alma mater that was just too good to turn down. He joined the faculty at Penn’s internationally known Wharton business school in 1984 and eventually became the youngest faculty member at the school to hold an endowed chair. At the same time, he held an appointment at Penn’s engineering school, where in 1994 he was named chair of the department of systems engineering.

Keeping one foot in business and the other in engineering suited Harker. He eventually left the chairmanship of the systems engineering department to head the operations and information management department at Wharton.

Early on, Harker’s research focused on transportation systems. He received support from a major railroad to develop an algorithm-based system to control the movement of trains. From controlling trains, he switched to controlling the movement of customers. He developed call centers for financial services enterprises. “Traffic is traffic whether you are dealing with telephone calls or box cars,” he explains. In both instances, Harker was designing large, complex systems. “Engineering helped me to see how everything interrelates,” he says. “I was looking at the relationship between technical systems and economics, which also involved a lot of socioeconomic aspects. I was attracted by the complexity of it.”

At one point, Harker took a year off from research and teaching to serve as a White House Fellow. The prestigious program attracts up to 1,000 applicants annually from whom a maximum of 19 are chosen to work in government. Harker held the post of special assistant to the director of the FBI, helping to oversee development of a nationwide fingerprint system. “The Fellows program led me to develop my own personal leadership skills,” he recalls. “After that experience, I realized I could be good at leading.”

Nonetheless, he returned to Penn fully intending to resume his research. But he found himself being asked to serve in various administrative capacities, including deputy and then interim dean at Wharton. In 2000, he was named dean of the school. He presided over a 10 percent expansion of the full-time faculty. Harker also took over a fund-raising campaign in midstream and led it to a successful conclusion by raising more than $450 million.

He expanded Wharton’s reach by opening a branch on the West Coast and forming an alliance in global management education with INSEAD, an international institution with campuses in Europe and Asia. “The global market has been one of his themes,” says Eduardo Glandt, dean of Penn’s engineering school.

Harker also took Wharton into both print and online publishing. The biweekly online electronic newsletter knowledge@wharton provides a wide range of information and research about business and has more than half a million subscribers. “He is willing to take risks and innovate,” says David Schmittlein, Wharton’s deputy dean.

A Leader Who Listens

PATRICK HARKER - PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHAD DOWLINGHarker has always had an aura of “gravitas,” says Glandt, who was a young professor at Penn when Harker was still an undergraduate. “He is a big guy with a lot of presence.” Harker stands 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds—on the smallish side for a defensive tackle at a football powerhouse but not for an Ivy Leaguer or someone who would become a university president. Schmittlein says that Harker is aware of the impact of his physical presence and will purposely slouch or make fun of himself in order to come across as less imposing.

Those who have worked with Harker describe his management style as “faculty-based.” Glandt says that Harker “comes from the faculty and has never forgotten that. When deans from Penn would meet, Pat’s words were informed by what his faculty’s feelings were.” His concerns extended beyond the faculty, however. Immediately after becoming Wharton’s dean, he instituted a series of breakfasts for the school staff—people who were often overlooked, even though they played a vital role in helping the school run smoothly. “Sometimes a level of disrespect was shown these people by tenured faculty,” says Schmittlein. “But Pat was sending a message that everyone has a contribution to make, and their contributions should not be taken for granted.”

Penn administrators say Harker is equally at home on campus and off. “He is comfortable in his own skin,” says Glandt. “He is relaxed and well spoken. He has been a rainmaker for Wharton.”

Over the years, Harker had been contacted about various university presidencies, but the opening at Delaware was the first one he seriously pursued. It appealed to him in part because the school has positive momentum: It stands 67th among 124 national universities rated as “top schools” in the annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report. “It is a gem of an institution,” says Harker. “The citizens of Delaware are very supportive of their institutions of higher education and see education as driving economic growth and social progress in the state.”

PATRICK HARKER - PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHAD DOWLINGIn taking the Delaware job, Harker became one of a relatively small but growing number of engineers moving into top-tier university administrative roles. For him, the move was also a family-friendly one. Although Delaware is now the Harkers’ primary residence, the family maintains a home in southern New Jersey, and his wife continues to teach high school mathematics in Camden. Family is very important to Harker, the father of three children. In fact, he celebrated the news that he had won the Delaware job by attending his daughter’s high school basketball game.

Howard E. Cosgrove, chairman of Delaware’s board of trustees, says that the presidential search committee was impressed by Harker’s openness and thoughtfulness. “He did not walk in with a set agenda. He has the ability to assess an institution and then develop an agenda.” Eric Kaler, dean of Delaware’s College of Engineering and a member of the search committee, anticipates that Harker will strengthen programs that bring together business and engineering. “It is exciting to have a president with his kind of experience,” Kaler says.

Delaware, which has an endowment of $1.2 billion, was the first university in the nation to develop a program for studying abroad, and Harker’s interest in global education is a natural fit. Cosgrove says that in his discussions at Delaware, Harker “showed an understanding of the global economy and the world, and that was important to us. We wanted to find somebody to build on our strengths and the accomplishments of our outgoing president, and Pat is a builder with a strong commitment to higher education.”

Perhaps in part as a result of his years playing football, Harker is accustomed to operating as part of a team. “I intend to be careful and not impose my vision on Delaware,” he says. “I plan to listen to people—to hear what they think is great about the institution and what could be even greater and then to build a consensus.”

Alvin P. Sanoff, a former managing editor of U.S. News & World Report’s guides to colleges and graduate schools, was a longtime Prism contributor. He died May 17 of pancreatic cancer at age 65.

 

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American Society for Engineering Education