From the Dean: May 2020

Dear Purdue Engineering Community,

This semester is not what any of us expected, but it is one that we’ll never forget. Students are taking their finals, we’ll be grading them soon, and seniors will be attending Purdue’s first, and hopefully only, virtual commencement. I wish I could tell you that the hard part is over. Maybe it is, but the truth is that no one really knows what lies ahead. What I do know is that we’ll get through it. It will change us forever, and for the better.

We turn now to the next steps. Our research labs must be re-started – safely. Associate Dean Wayne Chen is working with a committee of Engineering faculty led by Tim Pourpoint to implement in our Engineering labs the general guidelines just issued by the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships. Looking to the Fall Semester, a team is already at work on an online option for First Year Engineering students who cannot be here. We’re also identifying key sophomore and junior level courses that can be fully online for students who can’t be here. Every faculty member should be planning now for making their courses robust hybrids of in-class and online instruction so that if the instructor or students can’t be there every day, the class can continue without a hiccup. There are still many uncertainties for Fall, but the fact that we’ll all be teaching and doing our research differently is certain.

You probably also know that we’re tightening our belts. The university’s revenue sources, including tuition & fees, state appropriations, gifts, endowment distributions, and sponsored program revenue are expected to be negatively impacted. Our priority is to avoid impacting benefits eligible faculty and staff while preserving operations, services, and functions that are critical to the College’s mission of teaching, research, and engagement as well as recruiting new students and building the pipeline. University-wide actions have been taken, and the college is now reducing its general fund budget by about 7% uniformly across each school, division, and program in the College. Because we are doing this without reducing personnel, it will feel like more than 7%. The FY21 budget will be reviewed in the August-September time-frame when enrollment and the state appropriation become clearer become clearer. At that time, unit-specific adjustments will be made. The actual  reduction could be smaller or larger, but it is important to understand that 7% is not a worst-case scenario.

To address the financial challenges, we’ll be looking for every opportunity to collaborate more on courses and events, to re-deploy staff, and even to share staff. We also need to work hard on generating revenue through Professional Master’s programs, online programs, and other opportunities we can identify. Landing major new research programs can help a lot. We are all in this together, and we need everyone’s help.

At the same time, the work of the university goes on, and good things are happening. Here are just a few examples. Working online with project teams is a challenge for all universities, and Purdue is a leader here. Bill Oakes recently presented a webinar on this topic for the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies. Attendance maxed out at the 500 person limit. Several Purdue faculty have re-directed their research to COVID-19 issues. One example is the work of Jackie Linnes and Mohit Verma in BME to develop portable, user-friendly technologies for Covid-19 testing. Giving is down, but two eight-figure gifts will have great impact. Bob Buckman’s naming gift to support online education comes at just the right time. Peter and Ann Lambertus’ gift will name building two of the new Gateway Complex, which will house the entire Freshman Engineering program, other student programs, and some sophomore labs as well beginning in 2023. Our faculty continue to receive recognition for their stand out accomplishments. For example, Dean Emerita Leah Jamieson was recently named the 2020 recipient of the IEEE Mulligan medal, IEEE’s highest award for achievement in education. The College is grateful to Leah for devoting a portion of the prize to the EPICS program. These are only a few examples on the great things happening in this college.

Despite the headwinds we now face, we’ll continue to launch new initiatives. The first is Rising to the Challenge led by Executive Associate Dean of the Faculty and Staff, Arvind Raman. It has been gratifying to see how engineers across the nation have risen to the immediate challenge of the pandemic, and Purdue engineers are certainly doing their part. This is what engineering is all about – making peoples’ lives better. Rising to the Challenge also has a longer time-frame. It is about how what we do to address immediate challenges will change forever how we teach, learn and work, and about the research we will do to create resilient societies. Purdue thought leaders and doers will play a major role in the transformation of universities and society that is just beginning. The first webinar, hosted by the Shah Family Global Innovation Lab, and will take place on Tuesday, May 12 at 11:00 AM. You are all invited.

Finally, the models now say that mid-May will be the peak of the pandemic in Indiana, so as we continue the work of the college, please continue to be careful for you and your families.


Boiler Up!


Mark S. Lundstrom
Acting Dean of the College of Engineering
Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor
of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Purdue University