Engineering Dean Wiencek Heading to VCU

John Wiencek will become senior vice provost for administration and strategic initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (July 1, 2013) — University of South Florida College of Engineering Dean John Wiencek will leave the university in August to accept a new position as senior vice provost for administration and strategic initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University.


USF Provost Ralph Wilcox announced Wiencek’s departure, saying the university loses an experienced, innovative, and results-driven educator who has burnished the college’s reputation for research, enhanced the quality of the undergraduate experience, raised graduate enrollment, increased fundraising for and within the college, and worked closely with local business and industry to address critical workforce shortages in some key areas, particularly manufacturing.


“Dean Wiencek’s focus on research, teaching, service, and close liaisons with industry and government has expanded opportunities for USF engineering students and faculty while enhancing the college’s national reputation for technological leadership. He also has embraced USF’s emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, helping to introduce new programs between engineering and other academic disciplines including biology, chemistry, environmental science, neuroscience, and physics, among others,” Wilcox said.

“As a result, John has ensured that growing numbers of USF undergraduate and graduate students are better prepared to compete in the global marketplace, not only in engineering but also across a broad spectrum of professional careers. That is the hallmark of a USF education in the 21st century, and the entire campus community is indebted to John for his many contributions in creating this new paradigm for student success.”

Rafael Perez, professor of computer science and engineering and current associate dean for academic affairs within the college, will become interim dean while a national search is conducted for a permanent successor for Wiencek, added Wilcox. Jackie Dixon, dean of USF’s College of Marine Science, will chair the search committee.


Perez is one of USF’s leading researchers and patent holders, most recently working with colleagues in the Center for Urban Transportation Research on a number of innovations to improve mobile communications during emergencies.


During Wiencek’s tenure as dean, the College of Engineering broke into U.S. News & World Report’s annual best programs list in 2010, when it emerged at No. 79 among public graduate programs nationally. Under his leadership, the college has continued to progress up the ranks each year and now stands 69th among public graduate engineering programs. 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 college’s advance coincided 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.


Much of the increase in research funding stems from large, interdisciplinary efforts and includes multimillion dollar grants for the National Center for Transit Research as well as a Department of Energy grant for research in concentrated solar power directed by John and Naida Ramil Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Yogi Goswami and USF Clean Energy Research Center Director Lee Stefanakos; a National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant to Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering James Mihelcic (at $3.9 million, the university’s largest ever sustainability grant); and several National Institutes of Health grants to USF’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research directed by Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Robert Frisina Jr.


Meanwhile, Wiencek has overseen a dramatic increase in external philanthropic funding for the college, which rose from just $700,000 in 2007 to a high of $39 million in 2011. Overall, the college has secured $100 million in gifts against a university-wide goal of $600 million during the USF: Unstoppable capital campaign. The largest of these came from Agilent Technologies, which donated advanced electronic design software that is the industry gold standard. The most recent include major gifts from HSA Engineering & Scientists, the Engineering Alumni Society, Tampa Armature Works, and Mini-Circuits to support renovations and repurposing of spaces in the Engineering II/Glenn Burdick Hall.

In the past two years, the college also has produced USF’s first recipient of a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, Jean Weatherwax, and Florida’s first research university-level U.S. Professor of the Year in Professor of Mechanical Engineering Autar Kaw.

“During the past six years, I have been blessed to work with some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable faculty and staff in the world,” said Wiencek. “I have enjoyed working closely with each of my colleagues and thank them for all that they have contributed, and continue to contribute, to make the college successful.

“The college also is fortunate to have the strong backing of our alumni, an actively engaged alumni advisory board, and local industrial partners and friends who support us with their time, treasure, and talent. I am confident that the college will continue to move forward as a result of the efforts and passion of all these dedicated people.”

Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.