Aaron F. Bobick, Dean & James M. McKelvey Professor | WashU photo

From the dean

Aaron F. Bobick  • 2023 Fall issue

In 2016-17, the then-named School of Engineering & Applied Science conducted a strategic planning exercise that resulted in the Leadership through Excellence plan. Through a broad community engagement, we identified a series of steps we needed to take to support our pursuit of true excellence in both education and research. The goal was to establish a uniformly strong foundation upon which we could build ever stronger programs and launch new initiatives. 

The resulting growth that the Leadership through Excellence plan enabled is truly inspiring: new undergraduate programs including partnerships with the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Arts & Sciences, and the Olin Business School; expanding our PhD numbers from 380 to more than 550; and increasing our tenure-track faculty count by 25% but growing our research awards by more than 100% from $25 million in 2015 to $57 million in fiscal year 2023. Our faculty and students are simply achieving more. And, because of the vision and trust of Jim and Anna McKelvey, we now have a new name.

In 2023, the McKelvey School of Engineering finds itself operating from a position of much greater strength than in 2016, but also in quite a different context. First, the world itself has changed. The new challenges range from the scientific and technological – e.g., climate change impact is no longer a hypothetical, and artificial intelligence (AI) is integrated in numerous aspects of our society – to the social and cultural, including polarized politics and growing social-economic-racial divides. Second, our own region of St. Louis has evolved, with an emergence of new industrial sectors including geospatial, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. And finally, and perhaps most significantly for McKelvey Engineering, Washington University has adopted a strongly targeted strategic plan, Here and Next, that identifies aspirational and investment priorities for the entire university.

While maintaining a focus on excellence, the new driver of our aspirations is impact and relevance, and thus the title From Excellence to Impact."

This new context along with the strongly established foundation within the school calls for the next iteration of strategic planning. While maintaining a focus on excellence, the new driver of our aspirations is impact and relevance, and thus the title From Excellence to Impact. In this issue of Momentum, there is a brief story about this new plan, which in turn contains links to more full descriptions. I note that this new plan aligns with the university’s strategies in several ways. First, Here and Next has a significant focus on the environment. Indeed, as mentioned in the School News section, the university has established a new Center for the Environment that will be led by our own Dan Giammar; McKelvey Engineering will play a leading role in the universitywide efforts. 

Another aspect of the university’s plan is digital transformation, and core to that effort is the rise of artificial intelligence. Unsurprisingly, AI is also central to the McKelvey Engineering plan. Our cover story describes some of our research into not only new AI methods but also how to leverage AI in other research disciplines such as materials science; these efforts are well underway. But our plan also embraces AI in education, both in pedagogy – how we teach – and in curriculum – what we teach. Going forward, all McKelvey graduates must be not only AI literate but AI competent.

Before closing, I want to note the new format of the magazine. Just as engineering evolves, so do communication and publishing. The new visual style along with the inclusion of active QR links results in a more modern publication. I like to think of it as greater forward Momentum.

Back to Engineering Momentum