Sixty and counting

Founded in 1946, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences enters a new era of multidisciplinary accomplishment and growth

Researchers in UB’s New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation

Researchers in UB’s New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation have studied the dynamics of child seats in vehicle crashes to improve safety standards in future designs. (Photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89)

Like other baby boomers born in 1946, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences might be shocked at turning the big 6-0. Unlike many aging boomers who are reluctantly slowing down, retiring or contemplating mortality, the school is infused with new life and is beginning anew.

Indeed, the school at 60 is at a pivotal point in its history, with new leadership, a new building in the planning stages, and a set of intriguing new challenges that center on sharpening the school’s reputation and raising its national profile.

“It makes coming here very exciting,” says Harvey Stenger, the school’s new dean, who arrived August 1 from Lehigh University, where he was professor of chemical engineering and former dean of the P. C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. “With the quality of the programs and our faculty, we certainly deserve to be among the top engineering programs. We’re not there yet, but we are very close,” he says. “With a few right new hires and a little bit of emphasis on getting the word out on what the engineering school is doing, we will be there soon.”

Stenger is joining a school that has risen dramatically from its humble beginnings in September 1946, when it formally began operations on what’s now the university’s South Campus. Though engineering courses had been offered as early as 1929, it was not until the war years that serious moves were made to found a school. From 1944 to 1946, engineering coursework and curricula were overhauled, making possible offerings in mechanical and industrial engineering and the authorization of a School of Engineering with Paul E. Mohn as the first dean.

Like Stenger, Mohn came to UB from another prominent U.S. university engineering program, in Mohn’s case to take charge of what was initially a single department of engineering. Mohn arrived in Buffalo in November 1944 from the University of Illinois, where he had been professor of engineering and director of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratories. He oversaw a UB program that grew rapidly, given the number of returning GIs seeking an engineering education, and he supervised plans for the Karr Parker Engineering Building, which opened in February 1947 with 900 students enrolled. By the following year, however, 1,300 students were enrolled. “So being inadequate the day it was occupied, immediate construction was started on the two wings and these were occupied in 1948–49,” Mohn recalled in a 1956 report.

Where early school photos show rows of young men earnestly cracking the books while wearing jackets and ties, today’s student body is far more diverse, and usually informally attired. The 2005 undergraduate population, for instance, was nearly 13 percent female and 13 percent international.

From basement lab to multiple research centers

The ‘six’ departments of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Chemical and Biological Engineering
David A. Kofke, chair

Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
A. Scott Weber, chair

Computer Science and Engineering
Bharat Jayaraman, chair

Electrical Engineering
Vladimir Mitin, chair

Industrial and Systems Engineering
Rakesh Nagi, chair

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
D. Joseph Mook, chair

And while Mohn remembered the engineering lab as “a single room in the basement of Foster Hall with a meager miscellany of equipment,” today’s engineering school extends over five buildings, with six academic departments, about 50 specialized research labs and numerous research centers, many of which are described at www.eng.buffalo.edu. In 2006, the school’s enrollment is more than 3,000 students, of whom more than 900 are enrolled in graduate programs. A lot of valuable sheepskins have been produced as well: a total of 853 degrees were awarded in 2005–06 alone. And, like the rapid expansion that Mohn witnessed during his long-ago tenure, Stenger must confront a school that is bursting at the seams. To relieve crowding, the school in 1988 added 15,000 square feet of what were to be temporary trailers. Ever since, however, these have been used to augment classroom and laboratory space.

But the current crowding isn’t merely a matter of cramped quarters, or the lack of aesthetics in trailer-bound classrooms. Rather, school officials say the current facilities simply cannot meet the needs of 21st-century research or teaching. The new space requirements relate to the burgeoning field itself, where an outpouring of engineering inventions has stimulated every sector of the global economy. Given this environment, most pressed are the departments of computer science and engineering, electrical engineering, plus two centers, the Center for Document Analysis and Recognition (CEDAR) and the Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors (CUBS). With a combined faculty of 44 and enrollment of about 800, members of these departments and centers are now scattered across five campus buildings and off-campus space. As a result, they are not able to add faculty, increase enrollment or attract more research dollars.

In an auspicious development over two legislative sessions, the New York State Legislature has appropriated more than $49.6 million for a new building that would house these particular departments and centers. However, total cost for the new building project is estimated at $75 million, so a philanthropic campaign will begin this fall to supplement the state allocation.

“This was a major effort with over two years of lobbying New York State on behalf of UB and a feasibility study for a capital campaign that is being completed now,” explains Mark Karwan, professor of industrial and systems engineering and dean of the school for 12 years until stepping down in July. The building plan and program will be done this year with design and construction to follow.

For his part, Stenger adds that the new building “will be one of my highest priorities, to make it happen as quickly as possible.”

Research growth and faculty cultivation

Harvey Stenger

Harvey Stenger (Photo by KC Kratt, MFA '84)

In arriving at UB, Stenger finds a school that has also grown in research expenditures, now at an all-time high of nearly $40 million per year. In addition to the research expansion, school officials point to the growth in the PhD program (63 PhD degrees awarded in 2004–05) and, especially, in national recognition of the faculty. Senior faculty have continued to receive prestigious awards, among them Eli Ruckenstein, winning the Founder’s Award from the National Academy of Engineering; and Venugopal Govindaraju, the MIT Global Indus Technovator Award. In an especially proud moment for the school in 1999, Ruckenstein received the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest honor for scientific achievement, from President Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony. Meanwhile, junior faculty have won National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards in impressive numbers.

According to Karwan, such faculty recognition isn’t accidental, but rather can be partially attributed to ongoing initiatives, in particular a mentoring program for junior faculty. “We recruit very well and our mentoring program—one of the oldest on campus—has really helped,” he says. “There’s nothing like recruiting very well and helping the young faculty along. I think it has really paid off. They’re our future.”

As faculty recruitment initiatives have flourished, so have efforts to help guide undergraduates—beginning with the freshman year—to find their way through the often arduous coursework and to acquire the mindset for hard work that necessarily accompanies engineering studies at the university level. The Student Excellence Initiative, begun in 1998, fosters team spirit and a sense of community from day one. It also encourages small study groups in calculus, physics and chemistry—the so-called gateway courses to engineering. And it identifies academically underprepared students from the time of their acceptance, providing them with academic support, advisement and individualized career counseling.

“Students who have participated in the program often express deep appreciation and strong loyalty,” says William G. Wild, MS ’87 & MA ’85, the school’s director of special student programs. “This is due in part to the support, both personal and academic, that the program provided them at a critical time in their transition to college.”

For many current students, the school is seen as successfully preparing them for career success, with graduate work a possible component as well. “UB’s strengths are the practical hands-on experience that every student leaves with,” says Brandon Brown, who will graduate in May 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “When talking with my friends from other universities, I find that we do much more lab work than most of the other schools,” Brown says.

A passion for teaching quality

Hui Meng, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering

Hui Meng, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, applies her skills to understanding blood flow at the Toshiba Stroke Research Center (Photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89)

From the beginning, the school has emphasized teaching quality, even as extensive sponsored research was initially a distant dream. “Engineering was the most popular curriculum for returning and new students coming to the university,” recalls Charles (“Charlie”) Fogel, MA ’38 & BA ’35, a member of the original faculty when the engineering school opened its doors in 1946. “Our emphasis, since the beginning, was on instruction and teaching. The amount of research then was relatively small. Even today, the emphasis on good teaching and helping each other to do a better job teaching is still a continuity,” says Fogel.

“But the amount of effort going into research—and the people they’re hiring now—are quite different,” Fogel continues. “The capability that the person evidences in research is a major ingredient in the willingness to hire that person, as well as their ability in teaching. In the early years, however, we couldn’t afford to do that. We had plenty of difficulty just getting sufficient faculty to teach the students we had.”

Today’s research activities, on the other hand, are far-reaching. Increasingly, the work of UB engineers touches virtually every aspect of human endeavor. Consider the areas of investigation covered by the departments and centers to be housed in the new building. These include nanodevices to detect airborne pathogens, early warning of catastrophic events, hazard detection, bio-based security systems, biomedicine, artificial intelligence and assistive devices for the disabled.

The Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, meanwhile, is intimately engaged in what’s called extreme events planning—applying research knowledge and faculty expertise to mitigate and respond to terrorism threats and natural disasters.

Multifaceted investigations

Albert H. Titus, assistant professor of electrical engineering

Albert H. Titus, assistant professor of electrical engineering, works on “smart” sensor systems. (Photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89)

In other research, Emmanouhl Tzanakakis, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, is using bioengineering to boost the numbers of adult stem cells produced in the laboratory, research that requires enhanced understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate self-renewal, or regeneration, of stem cells. At the same time, Stylianos “Stelios” Andreadis, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, has developed tissue-engineered blood vessels that respond to changing blood flow, opening the door to growing new blood vessels for use in treating coronary artery disease.

In fact, UB Engineering’s efforts closely match several areas identified as strength areas to be pursued in the UB 2020 strategic planning initiative, among them Bioinformatics and Health Sciences, Information and Computing Technology, Extreme Events: Mitigation and Response, and Integrated Nanostructured Systems. “UB has opportunities to grow in research funding because of the 2020 initiative, which has clearly identified foci,” comments Stenger. “A lot of these align strongly with the engineering school. As new faculty are considered and as others retire, the engineering school has a great opportunity to go up in the rankings with respect to research funding. The areas in 2020 that align with the engineering school are the same areas that typically have large research funding opportunities from the federal government, state and private industry.”

“We are excited about the role that the School of Engineering has been asked to play in the implementation of UB 2020,” says Kenneth A. Manning, JD ’77 & BS ’74, speaking on behalf of the Engineering Dean’s Council, of which he is chair. “We are also very enthusiastic about the plans for the funding and construction of a new engineering building, which should enable the school to continue its growth in both research and teaching.”

At 115, the size of UB’s engineering faculty is much smaller than the average size of 220 faculty for fellow public members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) that are ranked among the U.S. News Top 50 engineering schools. Those concerned with achieving UB’s strategic vision say 50 more engineering faculty will be needed, plus the infrastructure to nurture their productivity.

At UB, officials have begun to promote the engineering school’s research activities and scholarly accomplishments through a series of “bragging rights” brochures describing such areas as earthquake preparedness; photonics; pattern recognition, machine learning and information retrieval conducted at CEDAR; and turbulence research at the Laser Flow Diagnostics Lab. These are sent to deans of other engineering schools, whose assessments will figure in national rankings, as will the opinions of members of the National Academy of Engineering, whose members also receive the attractive and detailed brochures.

“I’m hoping that my experience as dean of a private engineering school will be helpful,” says Stenger. “If you look at national rankings, the private schools tend to have higher rankings than public schools. When you assess why that is, you find that it’s more of a perception than a reality. It’s important that the UB engineering school clearly describes to our fellow deans at other universities that this is not always the case. In fact, the UB engineering school should have a reputation that ranks it among the top engineering schools in the country. The dean’s job is to make sure all the other deans who fill out this survey know this.”

Alumni perceptions

Sargur Srihari is director of CEDAR

Sargur Srihari is director of CEDAR, which has developed software that reads and routes every handwritten address processed by the U.S. Postal Service. (Photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89)

Alumni say UB’s reputation directly corresponds with the value they perceive in their degree. For instance, Christopher D. Scolese, BS ’78, is chief engineer for NASA, where he is in charge of more than 30,000 people, of whom 20,000 are engineers. “My experience at UB was rewarding academically and socially,” says Scolese. “It provided me with the knowledge to work on complex engineering and science projects, while providing me with the breadth of experience to function in complex teaming arrangements.”

Many alumni have parlayed their UB engineering training into diverse careers in academia, business or entrepreneurship, for example, founding firms in such fields as satellite link and ultrasound fingerprinting. But, it seems, they are never far away from the school in a philosophical sense and continue to see the connections in their present careers.

C. L. Max Nikias, PhD ’82 & MS ’80, became provost of the University of Southern California (USC) in 2005, having served earlier as dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. “My UB engineering degrees represent far more than a distinguished credential,” Nikias says. “It is a reminder of a set of experiences that helped shape my careers in multimedia technology and academic administration. It is a reminder of my privilege to have worked with outstanding professors and fellow students in an environment that nurtured cutting-edge work.”

James P. Smist, BS ’80, found his interests turning to business and away from engineering while he completed his UB degree. “What I have found, however, is that the training I received as an engineering student—the way you are taught to think about a problem—has been very helpful in my career. Often in business you have to deal with problems that require quantitative analysis, or require data to really get at a solution.” In fact, Dean & Company, the Virginia-based consultancy firm he cofounded and of which he is now president, deals with business problems, but from a very quantitative perspective, in no small part due to his UB experience.

Even as its student body is increasingly diverse, the school has internationalized its programs, giving students a more global perspective in the process. Many of these international programs began with the 17-year deanship of George Lee, who is now special tasks director with MCEER. In fact, UB President John B. Simpson, during a trip to China in October, will help mark the 25th anniversary commemorating the activation of UB’s exchange agreement with Beijing University of Technology for which Lee was a driving force. Other overseas engineering programs include a dual diploma program with Bilkent University in Istanbul, Turkey. And a new initiative is pending with Birla Institute of Technology and Science whose home campus is in Pilani, India, with a satellite campus in Dubai.

Undergraduates can now choose to study in approximately 30 countries; UB ranks fourth in the country in the number of engineering undergraduates studying abroad. Not surprisingly, the school markets study abroad opportunities to incoming freshmen and subsequently reminds them of the benefits of an overseas experience. “I think that’s a selling point in the global economy,” Karwan says.

In a sign of this global philosophy, D. Joseph Mook holds dual titles of chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering and assistant dean for international education. Recently returned from Thailand where he has developed an intensive engineering program based at Chiang Mai University, Mook also heads UB’s popular program in Troyes, France. He is also chair of the executive committee of the Global Engineering Education Exchange (“Global E3”), which offers American engineering students the opportunity to study in one of 17 countries overseas, and for international students at partner campuses to, in turn, study in the U.S.

Fostering ties with industry

Strengthening ties to industry is also a big push from Bonner Hall, where the dean’s office is located. Karwan points out that the school works with about 175 to 200 companies a year, in funded projects, internships or co-ops. “Our industry funding used to be about seven percent of our expenditures, now it’s about 15 percent,” he says.

Robert T. Brady is chair and CEO of Moog Inc., a world leader in high-performance motion control systems and components that is headquartered in Western New York. Brady testifies to the preparedness of UB engineering graduates employed by his company. “We build flight controls for Boeing and Airbus commercial airplanes, and for military aircraft built in the U.S. and around the world,” he explains. “We provide positioning controls for U.S. and European satellites and for a broad range of high-performance industrial machinery. We are a technology leader in our target markets.

“Although we employ engineers in over 20 countries, our largest engineering staff is here in Western New York. That staff includes 77 graduates of UB’s Engineering School—UB has been our largest source of engineering talent. The university has served us well in the past and we believe that the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration will serve us well in the future, as we face increasingly complex systems engineering challenges.”

Another industry leader sees the value of UB engineering training in her workplace. Elizabeth Casciani, MBA ’83 & BS ’78, is vice president of North American operations and services for Praxair. “Praxair employs many UB graduates here in the Buffalo area and throughout North America,” says Casciani. “We continue to actively recruit graduates in the fields of engineering and business, as well as look to the university as a source of summer interns and faculty expertise in several areas. We also utilize the training resources in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from time to time for ongoing employee development.”

Recalling those early years and how they relate to the times ahead, Erich Bloch, BS ’52, a principal in the Washington Advisory Group in Washington, DC, says the school was founded “at a fortuitous time, when the influx of returning U.S. military were seeking engineering degrees and new technology coming out of the war effort—like transistors, computers, TV and jet engines—were exciting possibilities. The school caught this major trend and flourished with it. At the same time, the students—and I was one of them—experienced firsthand the development of new technical disciplines and acquired the engineering fundamentals in education that served them well throughout their professional lives.”

Bloch, who went on to a distinguished career with IBM and later served as director of the National Science Foundation, finds a parallel in contemporary engineering education. “Today is such a time again,” he says. “The biosciences, nanomaterials, environmental engineering, the development of new energy sources—all presage a similar technical and economic revolution to that which occurred 60 years ago. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will do its part to prepare a new generation of students and, equally important, through its research will be part of creating the new knowledge base that is crucial for the future.”

Amid all this tantalizing promise, the new dean is determined to see the engineering school go even further and to continue to build on the legacy of the 1946 founders. “One of the challenges is to gain the national prominence, recognition and reputation that I believe UB deserves,” Stenger says. This is an achievable aim, he emphasizes, and one that provokes a metaphor of flight.

“I liken the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to a jet on the runway that is taking off—with a new pilot looking forward to a successful voyage. The trajectory I am inheriting from the past 60 years of hard work and great leadership is tremendously exciting.

“I want to keep going as fast as we can.”

Compiled and written by Ann Whitcher with campus reports

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