Wiencek Reappointed College of Engineering Dean
Second term will focus on enhancing student success, expanding research in computation and bio-engineering.
By Kevin Burke
Special toUSF News
TAMPA, Fla. (May 24, 2012) — A familiar hand will spearhead aggressive new initiatives in the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering with the reappointment of John Wiencek to another five-year term as dean.
Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox said Wiencek’s innovative and results-driven leadership will be essential as the college, and university as a whole, confront a changing economic climate in which USF “no longer can rely on state appropriations and tuition as its primary sources of investment.” He expressed his continuing confidence in Wiencek’s ability to “shape an exciting and distinctive vision for the future of the college, in alignment with USF’s strategic priorities.”
During his first term as dean, Wiencek helped establish positive trends in the college’s statewide, national and global profile, as well as graduate enrollment growth, particularly at the doctoral level.
The college’s arrival on U.S. News & World Report’s annual best programs list in 2010, when it emerged at No. 79 among public graduate programs nationally, was followed by a quick rise of seven spots to No. 72 in just two short years. The college’s online graduate offerings also fared well in the publication’s first-ever ranking of the best online programs in 2012 — coming in 4th in the country for faculty credentials and training and 17th nationally for student services and technology.
The rise coincides with an increase in overall research expenditures, which hit a record $28 million in 2011, and higher Ph.D. enrollment, which has more than doubled since 2010.
Fundraising for and within the college also is up significantly, from just $700,000 in 2007 to more than $39 million at the close of last year. Included in that total is a gift-in-kind — the largest in university history — from Agilent Technologies worth almost $26 million. The company’s Advance Design System software allows students to build and test a device in virtual space, perfecting its design before incurring the costs of actually building a prototype of a real device.
Wiencek estimates that the technology assures USF students a six-month head start in the job market upon graduation, with already developed job skills and expertise on a professional-level design program, while saving their employers thousands of dollars in productive hours lost to learning and training with the software. More than 400 of USF’s approximately 3,800 engineering students may be using the system at any given time.
The College this past academic year also claimed the honor of producing USF’s first recipient of a prestigious Marshall Scholarship. Newly degreed Electrical Engineering graduate Jean Weatherwax will continue her work on novel implantable medical devices at Imperial College-London beginning in the fall.
In the college’s future, Wiencek sees enhanced quality of the undergraduate experience, with more core courses available in the first two years. Elsewhere, he said, the move has shown to be effective in keeping promising young minds interested in the discipline at a time when the majority of course work is confined to prerequisite math and science.
He also wants to establish two research centers, on computation — an increasingly vital component of industrial engineering — and in bio-engineering. Greater interdisciplinary collaboration (with the university’s new Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation and College of Marine Science, in particular) and stronger ties in the community also figure in Wiencek’s plans.
“Our view,” said Wiencek, “is the community defines the need, which we overlay on the curriculum to inform and direct projects that solve real problems and give students experience in applied research. We’re engaged already with the Tampa Bay Tech Forum about what we both see as a critical workforce shortage in some key areas, and we’re looking very closely at the emerging medical device manufacturing sector in Pinellas County, which ranks second in the state for manufacturing employment and third in the state for manufacturing firms.”
In recent years, the college has burnished its reputation for research, earning a $3.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Transportation for public transportation-focused work in USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), a nationally recognized, multidisciplinary collaborative developing comprehensive transportation solutions while combining in students academic and real world experience. CUTR’s National Center for Transit Research was one of only two university research programs to receive the highly competitive national grant.
Leadership in the emerging science of concentrated solar power (CSP) has produced million-dollar grants, as well, for Prof. Yogi Goswami, director of the USF arm of the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC) and co-director of the USF Clean Energy Research Center (CERC), as well as CERC Director Lee Stefanakos and Mechanical Engineering Prof. Muhammad Rahman.
The college also continues to develop and launch new interdisciplinary degree programs including a master of science (with Physics) in materials science and engineering, as well as a cross disciplinary Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering.
Its annual two-day Engineering Expo, meanwhile, still draws more than 18,000 K-12 students from throughout Florida to campus each year for a hands-on experience meant to encourage more students to pursue fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields.
Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.