MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR
s part of UW-Madison's processes aimed at maintaining the vitality of academic departments on campus, each department undergoes a ten-year review. While this entails many tasks that probably don't count as inspiring, it does provide a reason to reflect on the changes that have occurred in the department over a decade. What I uncovered in the process of preparing for the ten-year review of CBE was, in many respects, gratifying. For example, our department has six instructional laboratories (the most famous of which is our "summer lab"), and I am delighted to report that over the past ten years, all six of these labs have been substantially upgraded. Given the fiscal challenges of the period, this is a satisfying accomplishment, and a statement of the importance that our department places on the integration of challenging lecture courses with state-of-the-art laboratories.
It is also significant to realize that the experience of the student has changed in these new labs—in particular, to more closely reflect the ambiguities of the real world, students are now asked to design experiments and assemble the necessary equipment before performing the experiment and completing an analysis of their results. This increased emphasis on synthesis of ideas in the lab environment is a healthy evolution in the education of students in our department. The revitalization of our labs has also greatly leveraged the presence of our graduate and research program, illustrating the synergies that arise from a department with both strong undergraduate and graduate programs.
Other discoveries while sieving data for the ten-year report include the realizations that: roughly 50 CBE undergraduate students are participating in research projects each semester; on average, for each BS graduate from our department, three companies (often with multiple openings) are coming to campus to recruit; and interest in our undergraduate program amongst incoming students is also very high, with the result that the average high school GPA of our sophomores has risen to 3.93 (out of 4.0) over the decade.
Our ten-year review also revealed many good things about our graduate and research program. For example, graduate student enrollment has increased by 30 percent over the past decade; faculty who were launching their research programs in 2000 are now recognized as leaders of their field; funding of research has doubled over the decade; and the department has emerged as a hub for interdisciplinary research on campus.
This high level of interdisciplinarity, in particular, provides an outstanding environment for the education of graduate students in a world where many of the challenges related to energy, water, sustainability, and health require close cooperation of scientists and engineers with distinct disciplinary training. Indeed, on the first page of this newsletter, you will find a very nice example of research with important biomedical implications that is being pursued by Dave Lynn from our department in collaboration with Helen Blackwell from Chemistry. By many of the most informative of metrics (e.g., PhD's graduated per year per faculty member), our department's performance in graduate education and research over the past decade has been excellent, and this accomplishment places us squarely in the top handful of departments in the U.S.
While a reading of our 80-page report reveals many good things, the statistics also highlight some of the challenges we face. In the year 2000, for example, the majority of the instructional budget for the university came from tax revenues collected by the state government with roughly one-third coming from student tuition. In the year 2010, the situation is inverted. With a decrease in state revenue and increase in student tuition, approximately two-thirds of the instructional budget for the university now comes from students. These changes create many challenges for students, the department and the university as a new financial model (and associated pressures for change) emerges for public higher education.
In addition, in order to maintain the competitiveness of our graduate program, and to provide the flexibility that enables the best graduate education, it is also clear that the department needs to provide new ways to support our graduate students in their first year of residence. In this respect, we have an ongoing initiative to establish fellowships to support CBE graduate students during their first year at the UW, and our department would be delighted to hear from you if you are in a position to sponsor or co-sponsor a fellowship for the department.
Many thanks for reading this note. I hope you enjoy the remainder of this newsletter, and I wish you a prosperous and enjoyable 2012.
Nicholas L. Abbott,
John T. and Magdalen L. Sobota Professor and Chair
2020 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Dr.
Madison, WI 53706