Letter from the Dean | NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Letter from the Dean

Volume 3: Engineering Optimism 2021- 2022

Dean Jelena Kovačević

Every day here at Tandon, I see reasons for optimism. I’m buoyed by our entire community’s transformational work to address the issues plaguing society, and as a born optimist I find there is nothing conventional about optimism; which is why this volume is titled: The Unconventional Engineer: Engineering Optimism. It will give you a good overview of the strides we’re making.

Part of what fuels my optimism is that NYU Tandon continues to be a magnet for engineers who want to make a global impact, which is reflected in our U.S. News & World Report rankings jump from #46 to #33 over the last 5 years. In that same timeframe, we’ve seen our graduate applications rise by 97% and our undergraduate applications increase by 77%. Our online population is also growing at an astounding rate, with nearly 1,000 new and continuing students currently enrolled in our for-credit Masters programs and tens of thousands more in our non-credit offerings. This increase in reputation, desire to be a part of our community, and willingness to join non-traditional programs leaves me confident that this new generation of problem-solvers will build upon our strong foundation dating back to 1854.

Throughout our history, we’ve celebrated our role in mass-producing penicillin, landing men on the Moon, laying the foundation for 5G and next-generation wireless, and countless other life-altering accomplishments. Today, we’re still advancing powerful new research and technology, and we’ve taken some important steps to support our researchers in their work.

solar cells on roof with NYC skyline in background
Tandon researchers are tackling the inefficiency of solar cells

For example, we’ve launched exciting new initiatives focused on Sustainable Engineering, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Health Engineering, and we’ve welcomed a new director for our Center for Urban Science + Progress who is rethinking how to bolster fundamental urban science and make the modern city safer, healthier, and more livable. He’ll be aided in his mission by faculty members from various disciplines that populate the Center.

Speaking of our faculty, they are truly a force to be reckoned with. Tandon has increased the number of planned faculty positions from 116 to 130, with computer science and biomedical engineering leading the charge in growth.

Ph.D. students are always a source of fresh perspective and innovative thinking, and we recently created a new Ph.D. Hub to provide mentorship and professional development and increased financial support.

I’m pleased by the way we are reengineering the fundamentals of our curriculum and the continued growth of lifelong learning platforms that create entry points for students at all stages of life. We provide the building blocks for ongoing STEM education by engaging with K-12 students; working with traditional in person cohorts of undergraduate and graduate students here in Brooklyn; offering non-traditional learners and those without STEM backgrounds a chance to explore new avenues, and expanding the opportunities for graduate and post higher-education learning with a growing roster of up-to-the-minute digital programs that meet the evolving needs of aspiring and mid-career professionals alike. I like to think that Tandon has a place for everyone, no matter what stage of life, where they’re from, or where they’re going. We are reexamining our advanced degrees to reflect the complexity of societal needs for tech and engineering in the modern era, and are in various stages of planning and launch for a new Build Your Own Master’s option, a practitioner-focused Doctor of Engineering degree, and an urban science Ph.D. concentration.

students at makerspace counter
Students access guidance and prototyping resources at the MakerSpace

Putting all our students first is one of our guiding principles, and this year we established the Experiential Learning Center (ELC) to advance immersive and multidisciplinary learning, collaboration, and career-readiness opportunities. We also saw a record number of more than 30 student teams getting hands-on learning experience in our Vertically Integrated Projects program — an exponential leap from the original four just five years ago.

We also made what we think is a vital change to our educational landscape, officially incorporating ethical engineering into our curriculum, ensuring that students understand how their work can affect society and the importance of leveraging their skills in a way that takes into account equity, fairness, and transparency. They’ll be going out into the world equipped with both the technical skills and the insight to improve it, and I’m extremely optimistic about the contributions they’ll be able to make to their communities.

I have always loved the concept of community, which, of course, means far more than just a specific geographic locale. It’s not enough for us to just work to improve our school community; we’re intent on making a mark on the broader academic community, the city, the nation, and the globe.

We have created the Office of Inclusive Excellence and have encouraged our faculty as they pursue research with a more fair and equitable world in mind. We established a Feminism and STEM minor that gives students a critical understanding of the ways that difference and diversity shape and are shaped by modern science and technology. Both of which have laid the groundwork for us to have an increased number of graduate-level fellows from groups underrepresented in STEM.

diverse group of young academics with faculty holding welcome sign
The 2022 Faculty First Look cohort met for two days of workshops and networking 

I was pleased to be a part of a shared $3 million NSF grant to develop methods of promoting the advancement of tenuretrack engineering faculty from groups not generally represented in STEM academia, and welcomed a new cohort of talented “Faculty First Look” scholars from these underrepresented groups, preparing them to forge academic careers after completing their doctoral studies.

I was also heartened by our response to the war in Ukraine by providing free online summer classes and compensated research opportunities for displaced students.

None of our accomplishments would be possible without a strong institutional foundation, and this year we created a vision for what our campus will look like over the next decade and beyond, which will put us in good standing to tackle new initiatives as they arise and ensure we are constantly on the cutting edge of curriculum, research and discovery.

One of the joys of being the dean of a school like Tandon is being surrounded by engineers — trouble-shooters and problem-solvers by nature. When I consider all they’re capable of, it’s impossible to be anything but optimistic.

— Jelena


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