sealPurdue News

August 22, 2002

Engineering schools retool engineering, education for 21st century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University's Schools of Engineering this fall will launch their planned $400 million transformation, breaking ground on two major projects, including one of the nation's largest civil engineering research facilities.

The two projects – an $11 million large-scale civil engineering research laboratory and a $28 million renovation and addition to the chemical engineering building – are part of a master plan that will renovate and expand engineering space by 60 percent.

But when Purdue completes its master building plan for its 13 engineering schools over the next decade, more than bricks and mortar will have transformed the schools.

Educators say the real changes taking place – from a more diverse faculty to the curricula taught in their classrooms to the research explored in their laboratories – represent a re-engineering of engineering for the century ahead.

Building on Purdue's foundation of tradition and reputation, and guided by a new vision of preeminence, is Linda P.B. Katehi, Purdue's first woman engineering dean.

"Purdue University, though not alone in addressing engineering's evolution, has embraced the challenges imposed by the requirements of change," she said. "Engineering (at Purdue) is acknowledged as a key strength to be emphasized and built upon to achieve our vision. In fact, the level of planned investment in the Schools of Engineering over the next five years is unprecedented – on this campus or on any other engineering campus around the country, perhaps even the world."

After 17 years as a professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan, Katehi (kuh-TAY-hee), the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering, assumed her new duties Jan. 1. Her task was to accelerate a strategic plan laid out by the Purdue Board of Trustees and university President Martin C. Jischke, who came to Purdue in August 2000 charged with the task of raising the university's stature. That strategic plan cites engineering's strengths and envisions Purdue as a "preeminent university, advancing quality in all areas while leading the world in the basic and applied sciences and engineering ... improving society at home and abroad."

Purdue's undergraduate programs in engineering already rank among the best in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report magazine's annual survey. Purdue's Schools of Engineering ranked seventh in the last undergraduate ranking report published in September 2001. In engineering specialties, Purdue ranked second in industrial/manufacturing engineering, was tied for third in civil engineering with the Georgia Institute of Technology and was ranked fourth in the aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering category. The magazine also ranked six Purdue graduate-level engineering programs among the top 10 in the nation, and corporate recruiters ranked Purdue graduate programs sixth in the nation.

Purdue, with more than 6,000 undergraduate students in its engineering programs, already has one of the largest engineering campuses in the country. The engineering schools' master plan, unveiled more than a year ago, calls for $250 million in new construction, $100 million in new equipment and $60 million in renovations to meet anticipated needs for the next 15-20 years. These new and renovated buildings will expand the schools' physical, usable space by almost 60 percent, Katehi said.

Projects also will include additions to the mechanical engineering building; a new biomedical building; and a new building that will serve as the doorway to the engineering complex, housing freshman engineering, diversity and outreach programs and the School of Aeronautic and Astronautic Engineering, as well as other academic programs.

"State-of-the-art facilities are essential to enabling the scholarly work in which our faculty and students must be engaged," Katehi said.

As the complexity of research has grown, a more interdisciplinary approach is needed. This, in turn, requires more flexible and interconnected laboratories and classrooms, Katehi said.

In addition to reflecting the university's strategic plan, engineering's master plan also incorporates strategic goals specific to its schools.

"We are identifying our current research strengths as well as other areas of research that are ripe for development," Katehi said. "We will then designate signature areas for the Schools of Engineering – high-impact research areas in which we expect to lead. These areas will frame our research agenda for the future. Nanotechnology – designing materials, devices and systems by manipulating matter of the scale of the molecule – will be one such area."

At the heart of the facility plan – and among the first components of the plan to be completed – will be the Birck Nanotechnology Center. The center will be located in Discovery Park, a $100 million research complex that will provide an idea-to-market model of interdisciplinary research.

The center is being designed to consolidate Purdue's initiatives in the emerging field of nanotechnology. Work on the new $56.4 million nanotechnology center is already under way, and it is expected to open in the first quarter of 2005.

"Nanotechnology will affect engineering education profoundly because it is highly interdisciplinary," Katehi said.

Nanotechnology may even make it necessary to reassess education at the K-12 level in order to accustom students to think about engineering on the molecular level, she said.

Nanotechnology also will affect the university and even the Indiana economy on many levels.

"The Birck Nanotechnology Center will make our schools of engineering very competitive in academic, scientific and even economic arenas," Katehi said. "In fact, we're already being considered for grants because of the commitment to the Birck center and Discovery Park."

Katehi said nanotechnology research will be central to Indiana's economic development as well. Public and private partnerships will seed small spin-off companies to produce products based on research.

"Nanotechnology cuts across the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, nano-scale electronics and biomedical applications," she said. "These are the very areas Indiana has targeted to promote economic development."

New construction also will include a home for the university's new Department of Biomedical Engineering, another key area.

"In 2003 our Department of Biomedical Engineering will expand from a graduate-level program to offer an undergraduate program as well," Katehi said. "The biomedical industry is a significant growth area for Indiana and, indeed, the country. We intend to lead in this field."

There also will be new faces among the engineering faculty to go with new buildings, new research priorities and new ideas.

Currently home to 270 faculty, Purdue engineering plans to add 75 new members over the next five years while, at the same time, replacing the additional 50-75 senior faculty expected to be lost to attrition and retirement. By 2007, almost half of the 345 faculty members will be new.

And this new faculty will reflect diversity from the top down.

Katehi is among fewer than 20 women to lead an engineering school, and the only woman dean in the nation's top ranked engineering programs. And she is committed to increasing the number of minorities and women in key faculty and staff positions.

"I have made diversity – achieving it in our student population and in the faculty – a strategic imperative for the Schools of Engineering," she said. "We intend to increase engineering enrollment to 15 percent minority and 30 percent female by the year 2007. I firmly believe that achieving diversity is a component of achieving excellence."

Purdue has already established credentials as a national leader for diversity in engineering. The Schools of Engineering have graduated more women engineers with bachelor's degrees than any other school in the country. Purdue established the first Women in Engineering Program in 1969.

Purdue also gave birth to the National Society of Black Engineers, the largest student-managed organization in the country. This spring Purdue was honored at the organization's national convention for its minority engineering programs. For 15 years Purdue has sponsored a visitation program for undergraduate students from historically black colleges and universities. Now 21 of those students have doctoral degrees and 122 have earned master's degrees from Purdue.

Purdue engineering has pioneered multicultural and gender workshops for faculty, staff, alumni and student leaders aimed at improving, understanding and developing a welcoming climate. The model is being followed by other schools.

Purdue also is building on its leadership in student service-learning engineering programs that combine engineering curricula with public service to social service agencies. The most recent example: A group of universities, led by Purdue, signed a partnership this spring with Habitat for Humanity International. It's one of dozens of community-outreach programs taken on by Engineering Projects in Community Service, founded at Purdue in 1995.

As further details and specifics are being defined and refined for engineering's strategic plan, Katehi has embraced the broad strokes of the goals and challenges with, in her words, "confidence in our strengths and enthusiasm for the future."

Purdue, she said, is already keeping pace in the race to re-engineer engineering for the century ahead.

"Our faculty excel both as educators of tomorrow's engineers and as discoverers of knowledge, and our graduates are among the most sought-after by industry," Katehi said. "We will remain true to the traditions that have built that success, and we will move forward with boldness to achieve the preeminence we seek."

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2073,

Source: Linda P.B. Katehi, (765) 494-5346,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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