The Schaefer School of Engineering & Science (SES) has been working over the past six months to put together a strategic plan to guide the school forward. While responsible for the strategic plan’s conception, Dean Jean Zu has allowed the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and the members of the SES community to have a significant influence on the direction of the plan. The recent SES faculty retreat and town hall meeting have both served to provide channels for others’ voices to be heard in the process. After opening the town hall meeting, Dean Zu left, citing a conflict of interest, encouraging those present to ask any questions and provide their input without fear of judgment. According to the committee chair, Professor Henry Du, “The plan is the work of the community, as Dean Zu put more elegantly, the collective wisdom of the community.”
Professor Du provided both internal and external rationales for why SES needs a strategic plan. Internally, Professor Du said that there is a sense of a lost cause and that there has never been a shared vision by those within the school. Externally, the graduate engineering program has fallen ten places in the U.S. News and World Report rankings since 2015 and SES awards have dropped by a factor of two. Du was also very careful to note that “We haven’t seen the bottom yet.” However, now that the school has formed the strategic plan, there are high hopes among the faculty that everything will begin to turn around. Within the plan, the committee has set multiple indicators to understand the impact of the plan on both SES and the entire Institute.
The Strategic Planning Steering Committee is made up of 14 members with various backgrounds. According to Dean Zu, Professor Du was chosen to lead the committee due to his experience at Stevens and the fact that he can deliver results. When deciding who should be placed on the committee, Professor Du said that it was important to have the best minds and people who were representative of the community, which means the inclusion of an undergraduate student.
The Strategic Plan focuses on five key areas: Education and Training of Undergraduate and Graduate Students; Research, Scholarship, and Infrastructure; Faculty Investment and Development; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Culture, Governance and Reputation Building. As Professor Rainer Martini mentioned, the education and training of students is at the top of the list for a reason. The plan was developed with a focus on producing better students, as well as preparing those students to have an impact in the science and engineering world.
Education and Training of Undergraduate and Graduate Students: The goal that has been laid out by the plan aims to improve the education of SES, including undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate, students in multiple ways. From the undergraduate perspective, students will notice many changes both in and out of class. Specifically, students will see improvements to teaching and research laboratories to get more hands-on experiences. There are also parts of this plan that seek to improve connections with private industries and foreign universities. Also, there will be changes to the engineering design spine because according to professor Hamid Hadim, “It hasn’t reached the potential it was intended to”, so portions of the curriculum will be adjusted to improve students experience and give them all necessary skills. Finally, this portion of the plan aims to integrate the undergraduate and graduate populations, as well as increase connections with alumni and SES leadership.
Research, Scholarship, and Infrastructure: The main point of this portion of the plan is to build up and maintain the faculty of SES, while also providing them with the proper tools to be competitive within their respective fields. Currently, the school is looking to hire a large number of faculty members though cluster based hiring to meet the goal of maintaining a “critical mass” of faculty. A large portion of this plan is dedicated to ensuring that “current seed funding initiatives [are expanded] to help faculty launch projects” according to Professor Samantha Kleinberg.
Faculty Investment and Development: In order to achieve all of the above goals, it is critical that SES recruits more faculty. Professor Martini discussed how faculty are stretched to extremes because many are forced to teach instead of focusing on their research. This is likely due to the fact that the number of students has grown over the past five years, while the number of faculty members has declined over that same time period. The plan also aims to help current faculty through areas such as mentorship programs to help faculty continue to advance their careers. In addition, the plan will work to promote the successes of all faculty and gain both them and the school greater recognition.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Stevens bears the title of “the Innovation University”. In keeping with this title, SES plans to promote entrepreneurship in a number of ways. This begins with an innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) hub for SES to support both faculty and students. According to Professor Christos Christodoulatos, students in SES will begin to see more elements of I&E in their curriculum and in a new seminar series.
Culture, Governance and Reputation Building: The final goal of the plan is to foster a culture of excellence. This is mainly achieved through effective communication and visibility, improved leadership, and collaboration both inside and out of Stevens. One of the most important measures as to progress in this area is the various U.S. News and World Report rankings, and how they are affected by this plan. “This increase in Stevens’ reputation can only further improve the quality of experience for all students and faculty of the Institute,” said Professor Koduvayur Subbalakshmi.
After going through multiple revisions, the plan is entering its final stages of approval and should be finalized within the next month. Once the plan is finalized the plan will enter the implementation phase and be carried out for the next five years.