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MSU’s new engineering dean sets quantifiable goals

Starkville — At Mississippi State University (MSU), things are going well, though very busily, for the new dean of the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering. It’s sort of like drinking water from a fire hydrant, says Kirk Schulz, who took the engineering reins on January 1.

The 41-year-old chemical engineer says a lot of people are vying for his time, but that’s okay because he’s a self-described people person.

“Most people don’t aspire to be in higher education administration unless they’re comfortable being with people and speaking to groups,” he said. “It’s very service oriented, and my main objective is to make the students and faculty successful. The primary job of a good dean is to facilitate the goals of the faculty, staff and students; to make sure they have what they need in the way of state-of-the-art facilities and salaries.”

Until recently Schulz was director of MSU’s School of Chemical Engineering and holder of the Earnest W. Deavenport Jr. chair. Now, instead of being responsible for 10 faculty members, he’s responsible for 110 faculty members and 2,100 students.

He says he’s surprised at the number of meetings the dean must attend and the number of times he must travel to Jackson for meetings and to speak to professional groups.

National prominence in engineering

“I feel much honored to have been selected as the dean,” Schulz said. “One of my primary goals will be to continue to increase the national prominence of engineering at MSU, with an ultimate goal of having the college recognized as a top 50 engineering school in U.S. News & World Report.”

He chose that publication’s listing because it is widely recognized and read as a de facto standard. “The numbers this issue sells are astounding. If you’re number 45 on that list, people acknowledge that you’re outstanding,” he said. “This is the sort of success we need to let people know what we’re doing. We can do a better job of publicizing the successes our faculty and students have.”

Additionally, such a ranking would garner publicity outside the Deep South and spur students and parents from other areas to ask questions about MSU. He feels that enrolling these students would have long-term positive benefits and that some would want to stay in the state after graduation.

“The vast majority of our students are from the Mississippi area and that’s not a problem, but to grow we must go beyond the state,” the dean said. “We have a lot to offer and those outside don’t realize the good things about living in our state.”

Increasing diversity

Schulz would also like to increase the diversity at MSU. He hopes to become one of the top five producers of African-American undergraduate engineering degrees in the U.S. by 2010 or 2012. There are presently 12 women on the faculty out of 110 and the female student population is around 18%.

“We are putting together a plan now to address more diversity,” he said. “We will have a lot more companies coming to expand here with a more diversified work force. In my view, everyone wins. We can’t do things as we have in the past.”

The college conducts summer camps for high-school age women and minority students and is making a concerted effort toward diversity in faculty searches.

“The entering student population 15 years from now will be much more diverse. White males will be in the minority, and the engineering school will get smaller if we don’t increase our diversity,” he said.

Currently, Bagley ranks in the top 10% nationally in research expenditures — 24th out of approximately 322 engineering colleges or schools. The college has 2,100 students studying in 10 academic majors. That is an accomplishment, but Schulz says he will work toward continuing to raise funding.

Another major goal is to increase the number of doctoral students. Now Bagley ranks 100th out of the 322 engineering colleges. “I want to bring that up to the same ranking as the funding,” he said. “That’s a very stretch goal and definitely is long range but we will be working on it.”

Bagley has no faculty members in the National Academy of Engineering and will aggressively work to change that. “It’s important to note that all of these goals are factors in making the U.S. News & World Report list and they are things we need to be doing anyway,” Schulz said.

The new dean is a native of Norfolk, Va., and earned bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. An MSU faculty member since 2001, he previously taught at Michigan Technological University and the University of North Dakota.

Breaking out

He says the engineering college at MSU is as good as any he’s seen in the U.S., but is under recognized. “In other states, many more people would know about this program,” he said. “The stereotype is out there, but this school is competitive. I have a wonderful opportunity to be dean of a school that is really poised to break out. We have a lot of exceptional students and I’m riding that wave.”

Schulz says Mississippi students clearly have better communication skills than students he’s taught in other states. “They’ve been raised well, and many of them have experience communicating in church and organizations like Scouts,” he said. “They’re polite and treat elders with respect. All of that gives them a leg up.”

He says all deans want to be highly ranked, but may not have a plan that is quantitative. “A plan must have numbers associated with it to be successful,” he added. “That’s what separates plans. To reach our goals, we will work on a plan that we can measure and other people can measure too.”

Schulz was named last summer to the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of the prestigious Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, which certifies some 2,500 programs at more than 550 colleges and universities nationwide. He is one of only four EAC members who represent the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

The Bagley College is named in honor of MSU alumnus and Texas resident James Bagley, who along with his wife, Jean, established a $25-million endowment in 2002. Their gift remains the largest single financial commitment in MSU’s 126-year history.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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