Ian Robertson named new UW-Madison engineering dean
Ian Robertson, Donald B. Willett professor of engineering at the University of Illinois and director of the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research, has been selected as the new dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
“We are delighted to have an engineer of Professor Robertson’s stature and experience take on the leadership of the College of Engineering,” says UW-Madison Provost Paul M. DeLuca Jr. “His vision, scholarship and energy will ensure that a growing college achieves at a high level.”
Robertson has led the materials research division at NSF for the last two years, and headed the Illinois Department of Material Science and Engineering from 2003 to 2009. Over that time, the department’s undergraduate and graduate programs continued to be recognized for their excellence.
Robertson, who earned a doctorate in metallurgy from the University of Oxford after undergraduate study at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, was impressed both by UW-Madison’s stature and the university’s commitment to engineering. “It’s an honor to be chosen for such a prestigious position at one of the top land grant universities,” he says. “And the chancellor and provost have a vision of what they expect the College of Engineering to become in the next five to 10 years—not just keeping it running, but building it.”
Robertson would like to see a shift in the way students are recruited to engineering. “If you think of the challenges that we face—energy, transportation, clean air and water, building the next generation of computing and communications technologies as we use up our raw materials—those are problems engineers must address,” he says. “Engineers are going to make a difference in the world. I’d like our students and faculty to take the leadership role in solving those problems in their classrooms and in their research.”
That means working to meet a growing demand for engineers with diverse backgrounds, and providing faculty with the resources to stay a step ahead of shifting funding sources. “A program within the college that supports collaborative activities would allow our faculty to take initial steps toward new lines of research,” says Robertson, whose own lab works to explain the way new materials will respond in extreme conditions. “We need to be in front of new developments in our disciplines, and prepared to respond to major announcements from funding agencies before they’re even made.”
The college must also continue to consider new ways to deliver instruction. “The way we interact with information has changed in almost every way, but we stay in our traditional mode of teaching,” Robertson says. “We have to keep considering how we are actually delivering material to students and assessing whether that material translates into the skills they need to be successful.”
Robertson would assume leadership of the College of Engineering March 1, 2013. Paul Peercy, who has served as dean since 1999, announced in February his plan to retire. Peercy will continue as dean until Robertson's term begins. “Paul led the College of Engineering to new standards of success across the spectrum of engineering—including some that few had imagined when he began his tenure,” DeLuca says. “He has our thanks for his tireless service over so many years and especially his last few months as dean.”
Established in 1889, the College of Engineering enrolls about 4,000 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students—and another 11,000 professional engineering education students—across nine degree-granting and professional development departments and a rich portfolio of research centers and partnerships with industry and other campus units.
The dean serves as the chief academic and executive officer for the college, with responsibility for personnel, budget, fund-raising, community relations, curriculum, academic affairs and physical facilities.
View video of Robertson's November 1 presentation to College of Engineering faculty, staff and students.