A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Once every ten years, every UW department must be reviewed by on-campus colleagues outside the department, according to Graduate School mandates. This year was our turn. A department administrator and six professors from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Physics, Computer Sciences, Materials Science, Physics, and Industrial and Systems Engineering did the job with a goal of finding ways to improve the department rather than to praise it. Their method was to individually interview faculty, staff, and students, and to consult a self-study report and other materials prepared in November by the ME chair.
The review committee concluded that because of numerous impending retirements, more mid-career faculty need to assume leadership roles in the department. The committee urged more cross-departmental collaboration, especially with Engineering Physics faculty. (Note: Engineering Physics was created from the former Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Mechanics departments.)
The teaching load of the ME faculty is higher than that of the rest of the College of Engineering. The average ME faculty member taught 466 student credit hours compared to the college average of 313 in 1998. The committee recommended that the ME department seek ways to reduce the teaching load by merging sections, offering selected elective courses less frequently, and nurturing a partnership with Engineering Physics.
Three mechanical engineering professors made up the external review committee that visited the department in April. Here with department Chair Professor Ragland, second from left, they are professors Richard Buckius, University of Illinois; Karl Hedrick, University of California; and Raymond Cohen, Purdue University.
Concerning graduate programs, the committee urged more flexibility for the students to shop around in selecting their advisors during the initial stages of their graduate program. Faculty should take more responsibility for nurturing teaching assistants in their discipline. Of continuing concern is increasing the enrollment and retention of women and minorities in the program. The department needs to continue to enhance its research stature while sustaining the high quality of teaching.
As for facilities, the ME building is the oldest and last to be remodeled in the college. Many classrooms, graduate student offices, and laboratories are inadequate compared to today's standards. There is a campus plan to renovate the ME building in the 2002-2004 biennium, and the department must be vigilant in pushing for this to make it happen.
Strategic hiring of new faculty is vital to replace faculty as they retire. The department needs to carefully focus its hiring priorities on key areas with potential for research opportunities. For untenured young faculty, the entire department as well as the three-person mentoring committee, must mentor each new faculty member.
In addition to the internal review, a three-person external committee of ME professors from the University of Illinois, Purdue, and UC-Berkeley spent two days reviewing the department. These distinguished faculty urged us to make the commitment to move into the top 10 ranked departments nationally, to move forward with strategic planning and hiring, to develop a stronger support staff, and to exercise strong leadership while respecting the rights of faculty governance.
This June, the outgoing chair, the incoming chair, and several key
faculty will further digest these comprehensive reviews and formulate
a response with the goal of improving student learning at all levels
of our program.
ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.
Editor: Gail Gawenda
Designer: Lynda Litzkow
SPRING 1999 Contents