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Cover of the Winter 2008 issue


VOL. 34, NO. 2





Dean's Leadership Class benefits students,
the college ... and the world

Dean Paul Peercy

Dean Paul Peercy (large image)

When Dean Paul Peercy sits down with a group of engineering student leaders to chat, you’d think it would be a little intimidating for the undergraduates. However, halfway through the semester of the annual Dean’s Leadership Class, students appear at ease discussing their projects with Peercy, and this is exactly what the dean hopes for.

“Dean Peercy is very personable and easy to talk to,” says Abby Schmidt, a sophomore civil engineering student. “It excites me that someone so high up can still connect with students.”

Schmidt is one of 22 students in the leadership course, which has run every fall since 2000—Peercy’s second year as dean of engineering. The students are mostly officers or leaders in a wide range of engineering student organizations.

Peercy says he developed the course for several reasons. “I want students to discover and develop their leadership potential, and I want those leaders to understand how to organize and lead student organizations,” he says.

Class runs for an hour and a half on Monday evenings; each week a speaker comes to discuss specific topics in the field of engineering or general thoughts on leadership. Speakers have included a variety of industry professionals, including Karen Dettinger, a local engineering consultant and UW-Madison alumna, who spoke to the class about leadership development. Milton Hwang of GE Healthcare discussed succession planning and idea development.

Students also hear from professionals in areas outside of engineering, such as UW-Madison women’s basketball coach Lisa Stone, who listed 21 qualities of good leaders. Brad Jolin, one of the UW Foundation directors of development for the College of Engineering, gave students advice on fund-raising and budget concerns.

After each guest lecture, students have time to work on group projects that Peercy says encourage students to share their own experiences to discover the best way to implement ideas and plans.

The 2007 class is developing projects for the college that will stretch into the next few years. One project is to plan a conference for student organizations in spring 2008. The focus will be on engineering student groups, but the long-term plan is to expand the conference to groups from across campus. Schmidt says her experience attending conferences for her student group has been helpful in planning this project. She is the financial chair for IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience), a student group that facilitates international technical internships. “I can really bring my knowledge to our class program,” she says.

Another project is even more long term. A group of students is developing a plan for UW-Madison to host the state Science Olympiad in spring 2008, which will be the first time Wisconsin middle and high school students participate in a joint Science Olympiad competition. The UW-Madison students also are developing a plan for the university to host the national Science Olympiad in 2011.

Yet another project illustrates how the work accomplished in the leadership class makes a difference several years later. Students are updating an outreach program developed for K-12 students to get them interested in engineering; students originally developed it in the inaugural class in 2000. The updates will include a new manual and website for the program.

Networking doesn’t just occur among students. “The dean wants the class to eliminate the barrier between students and the administration,” says Tom McGlamery, a faculty associate in the engineering professional development technical communications program who helps coordinate the class.

The in-person contact provides a clear channel of communication between student organization leaders and Peercy himself. Schmidt says access to the dean has been great in getting out the name of her organization and giving IAESTE a higher profile. “It’s actually not that crazy to talk to the dean every week,” Schmidt says.

Overall, Peercy says the class is very helpful to the college as a whole and the projects will benefit future students. As for the immediate impact, Schmidt says a small class means she’s not just one in a crowd. “It’s definitely pushing me into a leadership role,” she says.

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