New Territory - Strategic Plan Update

Author: written by Amy Raley
Young woman setting up her robot for competition
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” That phrase from Mahatma Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation” of India, is apt for the College of Engineering’s 2009–14 strategic plan, “Extraordinary People, Global Impact.”

“We are pushing ourselves to think and act very differently,” says Leah H. Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. “We are forging novel collaborations, thinking much bigger, taking calculated risks and exploring ‘blue ocean’ possibilities.”

Now being implemented, the strategic plan’s vision is for the college to “be known for our impact on the world” by achieving 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 work by over 400 contributors inside and outside the college:

Story No. 1: Always@PurdueEngineering

This story tells of the Purdue Engineering experience beginning early in life and weaving a positive, lifelong, life-changing thread. Beginning in preschool, children will learn basic engineering concepts and, as they grow, gain increasing understanding about how engineers improve people’s lives around the world.

Such outreach didn’t exist when Robert Newcomb (BSEE ’55) was young and learning about engineering in his father’s business. “My father had the business of making record players and PA systems. I started studying radio as a kid,” he says.

Today, after serving in faculty positions at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, he is at the University of Maryland. His strong 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.

The “Always@ … ” story is breeding new teaching methods that foster lifelong engineering education. The college’s “Engineer of 2020” initiative is developing well-rounded “renaissance” engineers with top technological knowledge, but also critical abilities like leadership, communication and multicultural effectiveness. 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 their lifelong ties to Purdue Engineering. They are returning to campus to share knowledge gained in their professions, create corporate partnerships, collaborate in and support needed research, and show generosity that students feel every day. 

Story No. 2: ChangeTheWorld@PurdueEngineering

This story focuses on faculty and students whose research shapes the world and who are connected to technology’s implications for our economy, infrastructure, human development, national security and international relations. It foresees research that is strengthened by deep partnerships with industry, federal agencies, and national and international labs.

Among key actions in “ChangeTheWorld@ … ” is the creation of a Systems of Systems Institute to lead the world in explaining intricate connections between health care, energy, aerospace enterprises, transportation, defense, etc. In addition, this story involves enriching our collaborations and Internet use to enhance research execution and sharing. 

Ed Schreck (BSIE ’71), retired CIO of Accenture and current chair of the School of Industrial Engineering Advisory Council, cites the HUBzero technology first developed at Purdue as a shining example of global research collaborations and effective Web use. HUBzero 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 relationships and ongoing research, and development is continuing to expand its work capabilities.”

Michael McLennan, a senior research scientist in Purdue’s Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, says Purdue’s HUBzero technology is enabling global research partnerships that appear destined to grow collaborative Web-based research exponentially. “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.”

Story No. 3: Innovate@PurdueEngineering

This story describes using a three-layered “innovation ecosystem” to transform the research culture to one that connects creativity and risk-taking to high-impact outcomes and engagement. 

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

“Innovate@ …” sees the college as the destination for students and top faculty to cooperate on risk-taking research. It emphasizes entrepreneurship, economic development and benefit to society. 

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

“I’ve seen the advantage of multidisciplinary problem-solving with great products like computers, robotics, networking systems and, most recently, printers,” she 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 measurable worth to products and companies.”

Story No. 4: OurPeopleOurCulture@PurdueEngineering

This story describes a courageous culture with the sheer guts to support the boundless thinking that facilitates stories 1, 2 and 3. 

Jenna Rickus (BSABE ’95), associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, says courage is needed to abandon the familiar.  “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, this story includes creating a learning community for new faculty, a bigger capacity for leadership sabbaticals and fellowships, and an Influencers in Residence program.

A post-award process will reward ambitious research, as will the creation of mental space through research semesters, team teaching, and the banking of research credits. Also, a Staff of 2020 program will elevate skills of faculty-supporting staff; the creation of a Center for Diversity; and progress assessment through external reviews and report cards each semester.

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