By Lindsey Piercy
Now is the time to be an engineer. Why, you ask? Chances are, you're reading this on a phone or a tablet — a powerful device made possible by engineering. Given new tools and technology, society is calling upon engineers to solve the world's most complex problems.
The College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky is answering that call by embarking on a strategy for growth — a plan to improve Kentucky industries and the lives of the citizens they serve.
More than 3,900 students, undergraduate and graduate, are currently enrolled in the college, but the goal is to reach 6,000 by 2025. Achieving substantial growth will be demanding, but Dean Rudolph G. Buchheit is committed to tackling the challenges that lie ahead.
“Society doesn’t deliver easy problems for engineering to solve. We have to use our connectedness, and the diversity that comes with being connected, to help address those significant challenges," he said.
Demographers predict the pool of new high-school graduates in Kentucky will be relatively flat until 2024. Therefore, UK Engineering must be more accessible and more attractive — but how?
Buchheit said, the key lies in providing an outstanding educational experience. "While universities can produce competent engineering talent through excellent educational programs, we want UK Engineering graduates to be so much more," he continued. "Yes, they have to have those hard skills that define engineering competence, but the very best engineers also have soft skills sets: excellent communication, cultural literacy, flexibility, resiliency in the face of failure, leadership and more. So, creating an environment in which students can master all of that is what we’re trying to do here."
An additional 2,100 students requires investment on various levels. The college is hiring 20 new tenure and tenure-track positions for the 2019-20 academic year. Departments looking for faculty members include biomedical engineering, chemical and materials engineering, civil engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering and mining engineering.
"We need talented faculty with keen research instincts and a passion for educating future engineers."
In addition to faculty and staff, more space for offices, classrooms and labs is needed. The goal is to have co-located faculty in common areas to foster collaborations, and ultimately enable higher productivity.
Buchheit, who became the 11th dean of the College of Engineering on July 1, is tasked with creating and executing solutions. "As I’ve gotten to meet the people at UK and in the College of Engineering, I’ve realized they’re the biggest asset this institution has," he continued. "That’s why I’m confident, that together, we can capitalize on all the good things here that make our college great."
Buchheit earned his bachelor's degree in engineering science at Loyola University Maryland. He also has a master's degree and doctoral degree in materials science from the University of Virginia. Buchheit served as department chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University from October 2006-August 2014. Before joining Ohio State, Buchheit was a senior member of the technical staff in the Materials and Process Sciences Directorate at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
Buchheit is passionate about student and faculty success, as well as the prospect of building upon the college's considerable momentum. "I was impressed with the care and forethought that has gone into planning the College of Engineering’s future," he continued. "Making those aspirations come true is very motivating for me. Part of that is expanding our enrollment, but also investing in our faculty and facilities. I want to do my part to create a place where students, researchers and staff can be successful. That’s what motivates me."
Under the plan, UK Engineering must also strive to be the preferred college for the university and state to invest in, and the preferred choice for industry and government to partner with. In doing so, the college will become an engine for economic development — turning its graduating students into successful workforce for the state and the nation.
"I want everybody at UK to know that the College of Engineering is open to partnership," Buchheit said. "I believe the success of the college will significantly depend upon the partnerships we make with others within UK and with other institutions."
The comprehensive plan may seem daunting, but faculty, staff and students of the College of Engineering will move forward by doing what they do best — problem solving.
"We’re fortunate that we’re the highest-ranked college of engineering in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s a great privilege, but it’s also a great responsibility that we need to fulfill every day," Buchheit said. "As a land-grant institution, we are responsible to bring our comprehensive research mission to communities across the state. It’s our obligation to make sure our expertise and facilities are put to good use for the people of the Commonwealth."