His first term as dean of Michigan Engineering comes to a close in what has arguably been the nation’s most tumultuous year in a generation, but Alec D. Gallimore is ready to continue the College’s momentum through to the other side.
The Regents of the University of Michigan appointed Gallimore to a second five-year term as the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, effective July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2026.
Gallimore took the office in 2016 with the aim of making Michigan Engineering the preeminent college of engineering serving the common good.
His leadership team, in collaboration with partners across the College, University and world, developed a strategic vision for the first term, ME2020. The strategy outlined three pillars to establish a community-led framework for innovation within the College: education, research and culture. “I’m deeply grateful for the dedication, creativity and resilience that this community has shown during these past five years, and I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished together,” Gallimore said. “I look forward to continuing our work through this pivotal decade.”
Experiential learning has been a main focus of changes at the undergraduate level. While hands-on learning has always been a major part of the Michigan Engineering experience, Joanna Millunchick, associate dean for undergraduate education, explained that it hasn’t always been easy for students to be thoughtful about which experiences they chose and how those experiences relate to their future careers.
“We have a vast meadow of opportunities, but it hasn’t been well curated,” said Millunchick. “We want to create intentionality.”
With the Immersed program and the Experiential Learning Framework, her team has been adding guideposts and points of reflection to that meadow, helping students choose the experiences that would round out their skills in a way that would serve their career goals. They also are teaching students to think about their new skills and communicate them to future colleagues and employers.
Another major initiative was the launch of Nexus, the College-wide home for online and professional education. This new unit promotes faculty innovation for online and professional education initiatives, enabling learners from around the globe to engage with renowned engineering faculty in a way that best fits their academic goals.
Nexus offers more than 25 professional certificates, 40 online credit courses and dozens of custom programs for industry. It supports the delivery of five top-ranked online Master of Engineering degrees. In addition to coordinating the College’s online and professional education portfolio, Nexus has recently launched two new online professional certificates: Cybersecurity Professional Bootcamp and Foundations of Mobility, the latter taught by expert faculty members from across the University.
As part of the launch of this new unit, Dean Gallimore added the oversight of online and professional education to the responsibilities of the associate dean for graduate education.
“Higher-education will continue to evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. Nexus empowers faculty innovation and provides an accessible pathway to a Michigan Engineering education for a diverse, global audience,” said Mary-Ann Mycek, associate dean for graduate & professional education, whose title was updated to reflect this new focus for the College.
Across all education levels, digital learning is gaining a new level of realism with the College’s eXtended Reality (XR) clinic. Faculty members can bring ideas for virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality tools, and experts in the clinic can advise on what technologies could work best and how to implement them.
The College also ran an education innovation grant program, two of which ended up being especially prescient, said Millunchick: an AI tool for transcribing technical lectures and the development of course modules and case studies on race and ethnicity.
The main focus in research has been to enable faculty members to take on projects that could produce significant leaps in science and technology. One solution was a form of in-house funding that would enable faculty teams to think big. The Blue Sky program supports four major projects working on innovative approaches to global problems: repurposing carbon dioxide pollution, improving water quality, fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and advancing sustainable fuels and water purification with a new quantum semiconductor.
“Like most institutions, we’ve had mechanisms to seed research ventures that may ultimately lead to larger scale activities funded by outside agencies,” said Steve Ceccio, former associate dean for research and now the associate dean for academic affairs.
“The difference now is that Michigan was able to come up with a structured way to develop internal investments for faculty members with bold ideas that align with the strategic focus of College. And the teams have really been producing.”
Two years into these high-risk/high-reward projects, three are attracting substantial support from funding sources such as the W.M. Keck Foundation and the Department of Energy. One of the projects, the Global CO2 Initiative, is bringing in independent funding.
Beyond empowering faculty to act on daring ideas, Gallimore’s administration has been committed to building the infrastructure that can keep the College at the cutting edge of technology. The biggest of these investments in Gallimore’s first term is the four-story Ford Motor Company Robotics Building, set to open in early 2021
The College also made investments through the Research Accelerator program, with funds of up to $250,000 to improve research infrastructure. One of the projects was an upgrade to the experimental equipment around HERCULES, the most intense laser in the world. That investment supported the team that successfully made the case for $16 million in construction funding from the National Science Foundation, upgrading the laser to be the most powerful in the nation.
While engineering as a field has a reputation for overlooking culture, this is not a fault of Michigan Engineering under Gallimore. His administration made culture a central pillar, on equal footing with conventional academic pillars of research and education.
To improve transparency, Gallimore’s administration articulated and published the criteria for promotion and tenure decisions. Michael Wellman, formerly the associate dean for academic affairs, explained that the criteria stand on the twelve values laid out in the strategic vision: leadership and excellence; creativity, innovation, and daring; diversity, equity, and social impact; collaboration and collegiality; and transparency and trustworthiness.
The staff Creativity, Innovation and Daring program empowered staff to explore problems and try new solutions in the College, featuring events and informal meet-ups designed to bring together people who wouldn’t ordinarily work together. It also fostered the formation of small teams with grants available to pilot new workflows and programs.
Gallimore made himself available to staff, students and faculty through informal breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings. In these, he heard from folks at all levels of the College, receiving feedback on College initiatives and listening to pain points.
A key part of the culture pillar—diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)—created a natural synergy with the University-level strategic plan, and it led to impressive results. When it came time to hire a new crop of leaders in associate dean, department chair and executive committee positions, Gallimore made a diversity plan part of the package that would be used to consider each candidate. This helped to ensure that all of the College leadership would factor equity into their decision-making.
That simple change transformed the College leadership. It turned out that the women who were hired as leaders in our latest round performed better on those measures, and women hold about 40% of the College’s top faculty leadership positions at present.
To increase the awareness of DEI issues, Gallimore created a Dean’s Advisory Council on Faculty of Color in addition to the Dean’s Advisory Council on Female Faculty started under the previous dean, Dave Munson. He also established Sara Pozzi as the director of diversity, equity and inclusion and named her to his cabinet, giving diversity efforts a dedicated seat at the table of College leadership.
Following the unrest of the summer, a renewed focus on racial inequality led Gallimore’s leadership team to consider how to ensure that equity pervades the College. This led to the two initiatives proposed earlier this month: one to educate all students, staff and faculty on issues of race, ethnicity, unconscious bias and inclusion, and the other to create a College-wide center for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“This summer has sharply exposed the disparities in our society,” said Pozzi. “Creating a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is a never-ending journey. It must permeate our teaching, our research, and our campus.”
While COVID-19 is likely to play a role in shaping the next five years at the College, Gallimore’s steady leadership since the early weeks of the pandemic in the U.S. enabled the College to remain strong into the fall term.
“I am honored to continue to help guide Michigan Engineering as we move from our unprecedented present into a future that is radically different from the one we might have imagined even a year ago,” said Gallimore. “I have no doubt that we will emerge from this crisis not just intact, but even stronger.”
Gallimore is also an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering and a professor of aerospace engineering. Millunchick is also an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and a professor of materials science and engineering. Mycek is also a professor of biomedical engineering. Ceccio is also the Vincent T. and Gloria M. Gorguze Professor of Engineering, and a professor of mechanical engineering and of naval architecture and marine engineering. Wellman is also the Richard H. Orenstein Division Chair of Computer Science and Engineering and the Lynn A. Conway Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. Pozzi is also a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences and of physics.