Embracing Change

Author: Amy Raley

Inviting transformation that brings occasional discomfort, the College charts new territory in implementing its strategic plan.

“And now for something completely different.” That segue phrase familiar to fans of the British comedy team “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” also is apt for what the College of Engineering is accomplishing with its strategic plan for 2009–2014, “Extraordinary People, Global Impact.”

“As we execute this plan, we are pushing ourselves to think and act very differently,” says Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. “We are forging novel collaborations, thinking much bigger, taking calculated risks, and exploring ‘blue ocean’ possibilities. We are taking long-held practices, shaking them at their foundations, and intentionally putting ourselves off balance to gain new perspectives. These new perspectives will generate original solutions.”

Now squarely in its implementation phase, the strategic plan’s vision is for the College to “be known for our impact on the world.” It will be achieved by accomplishing three goals:

  • Graduates effective in the global context
  • Research of global significance
  • Empowering our people and enriching our culture.

The plan’s key actions are portrayed in four stories, distilled from the work of more than 400 contributors from inside and outside the College:

Story No. 1: Always@PurdueEngineering

This story tells of the Purdue Engineering experience beginning early in life and continuing throughout it, weaving a positive, life-changing thread. Beginning as early as preschool, children will be introduced to basic engineering concepts and, as they grow, gain increasing understanding about how engineers change people’s lives for the better everywhere in the world.

When Robert Newcomb (BSEE, ’55) was young, such outreach efforts were still in Purdue’s future. His early education in engineering happened when he worked in his father’s business. “My father had the business of making record players and P.A. systems. I started studying radio as a kid,” Newcomb says.

Today, after serving on the faculty at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, he is at the University of Maryland. His strong, lifelong allegiance to Purdue Engineering remains, however, and is enriching Purdue undergraduates in SURF, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, for which he created an endowment.

As the “Always@PurdueEngineering” story continues to unfold, new teaching methods are being put into place to foster lifelong engineering education. The College’s “Engineer of 2020” initiative is developing well-rounded “renaissance” engineers with preeminent technological knowledge, but also critical abilities like leadership, teamwork, communication, effectiveness in multicultural environments, and other attributes. Purdue Engineering also is forging new interdisciplinary professional master’s programs, personalized Ph.D. programs, and support for career-long learning.

And, like Robert Newcomb, College alumni are increasingly acting on the lifelong ties that bind them to Purdue and their experiences in Engineering. They are circling back to campus to share knowledge gained in their professions, to create corporate partnerships, to collaborate in and support needed research, and to show generosity that students feel every day.

Story No. 2: ChangetheWorld@PurdueEngineering

This story asks us to imagine faculty and students whose research shapes the world, faculty who are not only connected to technology, but to its implications for our economy, infrastructure, human development, national security and international relations. It asks us to imagine research that is strengthened by deep partnerships with industry, federal agencies, and national and international labs.

Among key actions in “ChangetheWorld@PurdueEngineering” is the creation of a Systems of Systems Institute to lead the world in understanding and explaining intricate connections that exist in healthcare, energy, aerospace enterprises, transportation, defense, etc. In addition, this story addresses efforts that already are enriching our collaborations and use of the Web in enhancing our research and sharing it with others.

Ed Schreck (BSIE ’71), now retired as CIO of Accenture and chair of the School of Industrial Engineering Advisory Council, points to the revolutionary HUBzero technology first developed at Purdue as a shining example of both global research collaborations and effective Web use. This unique Purdue technology helped pave the way for last fall’s $105 million National Science Foundation grant for the Purdue-led Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, NEES.

“HUBzero is a powerful technology capability that is enabling new models for innovation and collaboration,” Schreck says. “We are among the trailblazers. The HUBzero technology is supporting many multidisciplinary research collaborations; and ongoing R and D is continuing to expand its collaborative work capabilities.”

Michael McClennan, a senior research scientist in Purdue’s Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, says Purdue’s HUBzero technology is enabling global research collaborations that appear destined to lead to exponential growth in collaborative Web-based research. “We just released HUBzero as open source in April, so we’re still in the early stages with respect to the outside world,” he says. “In addition to the hubs outside Purdue, we have 24 hubs hosted here. Of these, 12 are in full production, and the rest are still under construction or not yet publicly announced. The 12 sites in full production have had about 390,000 visitors in the last year. The bulk of these, some 250,000, were at nanoHUB. org, but GlobalHUB.org had 66,000, thermalHUB.org had 20,000, pharmaHUB.org had 10,000, etc. It adds up.”

Story No. 3: Innovate@PurdueEngineering

This story highlights how we are using a three-layered “innovation ecosystem” to change our traditional research culture to one that connects creativity and risk-taking to high impact outcomes and engagement.

The base layer is the “idea zone,” where intellectual risk is supported and rewarded. The top layer is the “exchange zone,” where we partner with industry, defense, policymakers, global labs and governments. The middle layer is the “collaboration zone,” where the top and bottom meet to discern how and by whom problems are solved and topics of interest are addressed.

“Innovate@PurdueEngineering” envisions the College as “the” destination for students and world-class faculty who will often work together on risk-taking research. It emphasizes entrepreneurship, economic development, and a continual quest to benefit society.

Marcy Alstott, (BSME ’79), vice president of operations for Laserjet Enterprise Solutions at Hewlett-Packard, is a strong advocate of disciplinary diversity.

“As a long-term employee in the high-tech industry, I’ve seen the advantage of multidisciplinary problem solving with great products like computers, robotics, networking systems and, most recently, printers,” Alstott says. “The challenges are always at the cross-sections. How do you dissipate heat as electronics get smaller? How do you send a print signal from your cell phone? Solving those problems adds measureable worth to products and companies.”

Story No. 4: OurPeopleOurCulture@PurdueEngineering

This story envisions a culture characterized by courage — the sheer guts — to make revolutionary cultural changes that support boundless thinking and ultimately facilitate stories 1, 2 and 3.

Jenna Rickus, (BSABE ’95) and associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, agrees that it will take courage to abandon the familiar and reorder priorities.

“As an institution, our biggest challenge and most important step will not be to create the new world, but to tear down the old one. With e-mail, online access, easy and frequent travel, everyone is overloaded. Faculty must have the freedom to devote energy to their big ideas. To find this time, energy and inspiration, we must stop doing some of the lower priority, lower impact activities.”

To that end, key actions within this story that will foster big ideas include a learning community for new faculty, a bigger capacity for leadership sabbaticals and fellowships, and the creation of an “Influencers in Residence” program.

Ambitious research will be rewarded through a post-award process and the creation of “mental space,” through research semesters, team teaching, and the banking of research credits. Some, but not all, of this story’s key actions include a “Staff of 2020” program to elevate the skills of support staff who bolster the efforts of faculty; the creation of a Center for Diversity, where new synergies are fostered and rewarded; and progress assessment through external reviews and report cards each semester.

The ultimate goal in “OurPeopleOurCulture@ PurdueEngineering” is to “engage our people to transform our culture because empowered people radiate passion that energizes them to change the world.”