Whitacre College of Engineering – Becoming Globally Elite

Whitacre College of Engineering – Becoming Globally Elite

November 20, 2019 1 By Kody Olson


I came to Texas Tech to really make a
difference and I also had experience as you probably know being in orbit and
what I realize is we’re all a part of a greater human family.
So I decided with agreement with the Board of Regents that we would try to
make the Whitaker College of Engineering a globally elite University, and we do
that based on three pillars. Quality in everything that we do, hiring faculty and
we’ve hired some National Academy people the young faculty hire a second and none,
they’re excellent folks. We’ve also increased facilities. We’ve created a
building where they bring hands-on experience for engineering together with
theoretical background. We use flight trainers similar to what you learn to
fly an aircraft, three-dimensional imaging, to look at wells, for example, if it was
in petroleum or a chemical engineering you could go inside a distillation column,
and then we have them have hands-on with real size equipment and then we bring the
theory in because students today oftentimes have a great theoretical background you
all know they good with their phones right they’re really good with those but
a physical feel things they don’t have so we’re going back to the future in
that sense. Where every engineering school in the country wants to do it but
you have to have facilities to do it and we built them to do it and we continue
to do that, so quality and everything we do. Then we’re trying to do things that
are unique, something that’s different than anybody else and one of the things
that we do is we’re the only college public or private I found out in the
nation that requires its students to have a six or eight week international
experience. Now why are we doing that? Well that’s part of making them global
citizens, so we’re getting our students to learn other cultures but more
important than that, if you go overseas for greater than six or eight weeks all
the literature tells you you mature, you’re more likely to graduate on time,
you’re more likely to advance in your company, you come back more mature, you’re
a better problem-solver, so that’s one of the unique things we do that no one else
in the country does. In fact there’s very few schools in the world that do it and
we’ve taken the leadership on that. One of the things we want to do with Texas
Tech too, is take leadership in safety. As soon as a student leaves here and goes
into industry the first thing they do is put them through safety classes because
safety is a huge driver in profitability and ability to get jobs in
the technical area, it’s also the right thing to do.
We don’t want to train people on bad practices here at the University that
will result in them getting hurt later on, so what I did I got together with the
American Institute of Chemical Engineers process safety group and we are a site
along with several other universities that will be developing safety packages
for universities all over the US, and we want to be known as one of our
uniqueness, we want to be known as the safe University, we want the safety to be
part of our culture. Once every two weeks we send out a safety announcement, what’s
going on, we ask people to record things they think are unsafe, we don’t punish
anybody for it, we do random inspections, and we’re learning how to be more safe,
and that more safe we’re actually asking people to take it home as well, so that
they learn to be safe, it becomes part of everything they do and how they think.
Industry is very interested in supporting us on this because that means
they don’t have to teach this, if we teach them early and we make sure
it’s in all classrooms, in all classes, then we’re way ahead of our game. It also
makes our students, along with the international experience, much much more
competitive than anyone else, you know. And in order to get the pipeline into
STEM much bigger, we’re actively going out and looking at K through 12
education. I myself use my experience as an astronaut to talk to over 47,000 K
through 12 students and their faculty members about the excitement of STEM, and
actually STEAM now. We talk about the arts too because they’re really coupled
in a big way. We have an event coming up where we have a stuntman in the movies, a
very famous stuntman, he’s coming in here and he’s going to show that he’s an
engineer, that he calculates all the jumps, everything he’s doing, the
explosions, it’s all based on technology and yet it’s part of the arts, so we’re
reaching out to young students to get them excited about careers in STEAM.
Research wise from the undergraduate to the graduate, we’re what we call a
Community of Scholars, more than just a group of individuals, we’re integrating
the undergraduates with the graduates with the faculty with the
staff with everybody, and we’re looking at global problems. One of them is water.
Water is going to be the new gold right, it’s something that all of us have to
deal with. What we’re doing is we’re looking at all aspects of water. We actually brought
in a National Academy of Engineer to head up our water program, and
then we built a quality state-of-the-art research building that he’ll be housed
in along with four or five people addressing all the water questions. We
have a National Academy of Engineering member that has our energy program. We’re
looking for energy of all sorts, wind energy, we have one of the number 1 and
number 2 programs in wind in the world. We have also one of the best what they call
high-voltage programs, which are best known today in smart grid. So the
question is once you get wind energy how do you store it? We’ve got a lot of
research going on in battery storage, and then you have to integrate it into the
grid. It requires us to develop what they call a big data program and
cybersecurity program. Basically taking terabytes of data and information and
integrating them in an effective way and doing it in a way that’s secure. One of
the other areas we’re excited about is infrastructure. Throughout the world it’s
not just in the U.S., transportation infrastructure is falling apart. So what
we’re looking at is in a new way we’re putting together nanotechnology,
we’re putting together sensors of all types, we’re getting together with
electrical engineers and material scientists, to do things like come up
with a way to have a self-repairing roadway so when it cracks it repairs
itself. The infrastructure is a huge emphasis for us and it’s a worldwide
emphasis, everybody has the same problems and the under developed world is going
to learn from us and not have the problems we have, so again in partnership
we’re going to solve that problem as well. We’re doing something that everyone
is trying to do but we’re trying to do it maybe in a little different way and
that is engineers in medicine. We’re trying to get engineers to approach
biological problems in medicine in particular. We’re looking at new ways to
image, we’re looking at targeted drug delivery, we’re looking at artificial
limbs and tissues, and we’re tying that in with advanced manufacturing, so we’re
working on all sorts of aspects like that, and then we’re also developing a
very large program on big data and data visualization, and nanotechnology also.
The way I visualize nanotechnology and big data is sort of a spider web. In all
these other areas that we’re working on, whether its water or energy, sorta are
places on that web and they’re all interconnected through Big Data and
nanotechnology, so we’re getting an integrated approach to all
this stuff. All these areas we’re working on are regionally, nationally, and
globally important. We’re building design teams and design projects. We want 50% of
our undergraduates to be working on research and projects around energy,
infrastructure, water, and engineers in medicine. So in order to accomplish this
and produce the best engineers in the world, we need sustainable education.
Learning how to learn. As an engineer and a technology person, a STEM person, we
have to stay current in order to stay relevant
to solve these problems, and information is changing so rapidly that in the next
decade it’s estimated that you’ll have to re-educate yourself every three years,
so we’re encouraging students to know their limits, to know how to learn, to
get excited about learning, and so in the future they can re-educate themselves
every three years. And then one of the final things that we’re looking at is
recognition for all this because we could be doing all this but if we’re in
the middle of West Texas and no one sees us then we’re not impacting the world
the way we want to. We want to produce a world-class engineer second to none. So
what we’re going to do is we’re going to look at these areas that
we’re really very good at and we’re going to get out there and make sure
that people see them, and they know that we’re leaders in this area, and of course
the final thing is in order to do this takes money, and we need to raise a lot
of money. We need to build another world-class teaching / research building.
We need to generate probably 12 to 15 chaired positions to bring in some
additional national academy people, and top people in every area that we’re
looking at. We need to also reward the people that are here and doing the job,
we need some outstanding teachers. I’m very excited to be a part of a
university that’s going to move the needle right. We’re doing something that
no one else has ever done, we’re approaching it from a worldwide aspect,
we’re partnering not only with schools within the US but more importantly with
schools in every region of the world. And you’d be surprised at how many of them are
excited about the fact that we’re helping them solve their problems because their
global problems. We want to be leading the world in every aspect of education,
and we hope to be partners with everybody we’re not in competition, we’re
in a partnership, and as I said at the beginning, you know when you’re in orbit
you realize we’re all part of the greater human family and so Texas Tech
is going to be a very large part of that.