Research at Mines I was hired in 1991 to lead the Department of Engineering – referred to then as “Basic Engineering.” I believe Mines President George Ansell hired me to ramp up the Department to get it into the research mode — to hire faculty to conduct research and do teaching as well.
I came from University of Alaska where I almost exclusively did research and a little bit of teaching. Most of my research was in Arctic Engineering, permafrost, and sea ice/river ice. I worked in the Geophysical Institute there.
I had a lot of NSF grants focused on ice and permafrost, which was a critical factor in the beginnings of climate change awareness. We have to brag that permafrost researchers were the first to realize that climate change was happening. Temperature in the ground and at depth was increasing in the Arctic permafrost in the 70s. And, temperature is an absolute measurement. NSF and the Department of the Army were interested in this research for science and for bringing the military over the poles during the Cold War. They paid us a lot of money to do research in this area.
I was invited by NSF to become a Program Director. Frankly, I was tired of the cold! I was in Alaska from 1979 to 1989. From 1989 to 1991 I was a Program Director at NSF. President Ansell really wanted me to ramp up the research because research programs across CSM were growing at that point, and the Engineering Department was expected to follow suit. My experience was with proposal writing; proposal writing was always my strength. I knew how to review a proposal and write a proposal.
When I came to Mines, no one in the Engineering Department had ever been awarded an NSF grant. There were two types of faculty – older faculty who had no interest in research, and newer faculty that wanted to do research, like Nigel Middleton, Mark Linne, and Graham Mustoe.
The first year I sat down with 4-5 faculty and we targeted the lucrative programs at NSF — the programs that had the best probability to get awards. One that was welcoming was called ARI – Acquisition of Research Infrastructure. We sat down and thought about what we could do to succeed at an ARI grant and we decided it was in the area of geomaterials. It was the only term that encompassed all the different research interests of our group. In fact, we used our unique strength — a multidisciplinary program — to advantage. In the 1990s, NSF was encouraging interdisciplinary research, and we were clearly in the right place at the right time.
That became a pattern on how we would write proposals. I would do the writing. I would say to the faculty that I want one paragraph and one picture from each of them about the research idea. In the first two years, we got two ARI awards! Soon, Mark Linne and Tyrone Vincent and a few others wrote another ARI proposal, which was also funded. We also were awarded a grant on the multi-disciplinary engineering lab (MEL) concept.
In 1993, the Division of Engineering was formed.
The evolution of graduate programs We went to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to get Masters and PHD programs for the Engineering Division. We didn’t have that before. We had a small applied mechanics program for a Masters’ Degree and that’s all. We wanted PHDs so we could have researchers doing research at Mines. Around 1993/94 – the Engineering Systems program was formed for PHDs. Nigel Middleton wrote the proposal for the PHD and Masters in Engineering Systems. At the time, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) did not want us to have degrees that were duplicated at other universities in the state.
In 1993 or 1994, NSF originated the Graduate Research Traineeship Program. I wrote a proposal for the program, which eventually was called the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeships, or IGERT. We got one the first year that grants were allocated! Our graduate program just started, so we could fund some of the graduate students with IGERT funding. Again we leveraged our unique strength as an interdisciplinary engineering program in the proposal and the strategy worked. I had this idea that if we had the research equipment on hand to do research, along with specific funding for our graduate students, then faculty could apply to get research grants at lower budgets. This helped equipment and graduate student hires and really helped the research program get going at Mines.
Our problems were alleviated because we now had great faculty who wanted to do research. Then big changes started to happen. There was a program associated with the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) that provided that, if your program was unique within the 13 western states covered in the program — any student could come to your program and pay in-state tuition. We were accepted into the Western Institute on Higher Education with our Engineering Systems graduate degree. We had a venue for getting good graduate students from all over the west.
Research funding went from $0 and reached $2M by the time I left Mines in 2003. The young faculty brought in grants! NSF offered CAREER Award Grants for young faculty with outstanding credentials in both research and teaching. You had to be in your first tenure track job to get a CAREER Award. When I left Mines, 8 faculty in the Division had received CAREER Awards. When I was here many other CSM departments didn’t have any CAREER grants. No one came close to getting 8 NSF CAREER awards. It was a big deal. We were designated a Program of Excellence by the CCHE in 2000.
Interdiscplinary Engineering As an interdisciplinary program, we were a big fish in a small pond. There were 66 university interdisciplinary programs nationwide. At the time, the Mines interdisciplinary program probably had more recognition off campus than on campus. Dartmouth, Olin, MIT, Cal Tech, and Rose-Hulman all had interdisciplinary engineering programs – and Mines was a leader among that group.
Interdisciplinary engineering programs didn’t have representation with ABET. In 1998/1999, a bunch of mechanical engineering department heads wanted to add a regulation that said that any interdisciplinary engineering program with a “mechanical “ emphasis would have to meet all of the mechanical engineering requirements. In response to this, I went to the department head meeting at the annual ASME conference and made a speech against this regulation change. 35 voted with me; 5 voted to make the change that had been proposed.
In addition to the problem of external interference, there was a concern about the evaluation of the interdisciplinary engineering programs. The ABET Board chose evaluators at random, so that many of the evaluators weren’t aligned with interdisciplinary engineering. We needed to train our own evaluators. We then would have freedom from those strange requests from other engineers who didn’t understand our programs. We — the department heads of the 66 interdisciplinary engineering program — decided that we needed a ‘mother’ since we were orphans. Each degree program has an affiliate society, like the ASME for mechanical engineers, which looks after its interests. American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) would be our mother. It is the society for interdisciplinary engineering programs. We had a meeting at the ASEE annual conference in 2002, where we decided to form a group called the Multidisciplinary Engineering Constituent Committee. Within a year we were elevated to a Division. Today the Division is almost 1,400 people — the second largest division in ASEE. Simultaneously, Dr. Kerns was president of ASEE and provost of Olin College; she saw the writing on the wall for her interdisciplinary program. She made an argument at ASEE that they needed official representation on ABET. She made the appeal to the Board, and I made the appeal to the 66 programs. The coup happened very quickly. We had a mother; and we had ABET representation for interdisciplinary engineering..
Humanitarian Engineering We got an invitation from the Hewlett-Packard Foundation in 2002 to submit a proposal for something that would enhance our engineering education. We had a roundtable to discuss proposal ideas. Prof. JP DePlanque had the idea of doing a minor in humanitarian engineering at Mines, so we wrote a proposal. The call for proposals went out to 24 schools; 10 were funded. Our proposal was funded!
Mines got funding to send students around the world. There were several faculty who were anxious to get out there and do these types of field projects. They slept on the floor in sites in Africa and South America — Cathy Skokan, Dave Munoz, to name a few. We founded our Humanitarian Engineering minor at the same time as Engineers Without Borders. Mines was really the first in humanitarian engineering. Interestingly, humanitarian engineering really attracted female students. Women were represented well in those classes.
Department of Mechanical Engineering I retired in 2003. At the time, the Division of Engineering had 1,000 students. About half of those were students were Mechanical Engineers. ME has always been big!
In 2012 Mechanical Engineering became a separate department from the Division of Engineering. 2013 was the first year of ABET accreditation for the BS in Mechanical Engineering.
The future of mechanical engineering We used to emphasize in senior design that students should look at all people in the chain of those who are using their ‘device or design.’ Who is going to manufacture this? Who is going to use it? Who is going to recycle it? In terms of diversity, you need all of those people looking at your ‘device’ because they offer a different perspective on engineering design.
Remember the airbag controversy? Airbags were killing women and children. The engineers were designing for the average size man and not thinking about the diverse population they were truly designing for.
Life as an emertius professor now For fun, I enjoy gardening, Silver Sneakers exercise class five times a week, book clubs, volunteer for the homeless, and I’ve traveled to every state and continent. My next trip is a river cruise from Paris to Normandy and back again