The Arc of Change

Transformation through Technology and Vision

The more things change, the more they stay the same: the classic rule holds true when applied to the SOE's first 100 years. What began as a small institution focused on teaching the fundamentals of engineering is now an internationally recognized school that integrates teaching with innovative research and commercializes new technology. The constant throughout the decades is SOE's commitment to delivering a high-quality education to future generations of engineers.

The Foundation: Education

In the last century, new programs, updated curricula, expanded facilities, and better approaches to instruction have all shaped the way SOE faculty teach and inspire students. Yet it's the rise of technology that has made the biggest difference in education at the SOE. Laptop computers have replaced pencils and paper and the Internet has taken the place of the card catalog. With a click of the mouse, global information and ideas are available to facilitate learning.

"Technology increases the capabilities of teaching," explains Joe Cecchi, dean of the School of Engineering. "Today we can pose a problem in class for each student to do on his or her own computer. The software is much more sophisticated than we could manipulate on the board. With visualization and simulation, computers can show you things you couldn't otherwise see and give you the ability to try out new ideas."

By continuing to invest in sophisticated equipment and high tech facilities, the SOE gives students hands-on learning opportunities in state-of-the-art, "real world" settings. But technology doesn't replace the most fundamental interactions between instructor and student and among students. "You might think that since technology enables asynchronous delivery of instruction-students can access materials any time of the day or night from anywhere-that it would diminish the relationship between instructors and students," says Charles Fleddermann, associate dean for academic affairs. "It is surprising that technology can actually enhance the interactions of students with each other and with faculty. Students and faculty can participate in chat-rooms related to their classes, allowing students to work with each other on problems and projects, guided by the instructor."

Despite the school's educational advances, the old adage about change still holds true. "The educational tools change, but there are ways of thinking and approaches to problems that will always be the same," says Kevin Malloy, associate dean for research. "Thinking in terms of function, analysis, and design will always be at the heart of engineering education."

Integrating Research with the Classroom

The school's first students were also some of its first researchers. Annual reports from the early 1900s tell of students tinkering with motor generator sets in the research laboratory. Engineering research accelerated in recent decades and UNM evolved from an educational institution to a research university. "A research university delivers a different kind of education-the 'value added' is tremendous," says Cecchi. "Engineering is a discipline of practice and the synergism between practice and research is something that we have emphasized strongly."

For the SOE, proximity to the national labs was crucial to successfully expanding research. "The creation of the national labs made New Mexico unique and the state realized that this was an untapped resource." says Malloy.

The investment in research spurred growth in facilities and equipment throughout the University, and the SOE benefited tremendously. A research park, developed in the early 1990s south of the main campus, is now home to many SOE faculty and students who collaborate with staff from the national labs, government agencies, and private high tech companies. Annual funded research at the SOE grew from $2 million in 1980 to almost $30 million in 2006.

Today research is the basis of all doctoral degrees and most master's degrees awarded by the SOE. Many undergraduates take advantage of the opportunity to participate in research projects, which expand learning and give invaluable hands-on experience.

Into the Next Century: Innovation for Life

The 21st century finds the SOE entering a new phase. In addition to education and research, the school is working on commercialization, finding ways to transfer technology developed at the SOE into the public and private sectors.

It's a natural progression from the emphasis on research. "Research leads to new ideas that create new technologies which can then be patented and commercialized," says Cecchi. "That's the flow of the development that has brought us from just teaching in the classroom to an environment that goes all the way to deploying things."

In 1995, UNM formed the Science and Technology Corporation @ UNM, which markets the University's innovative technology. To date through STC, 148 patents have been issued with an inventor from School of Engineering, thirteen start-up companies have been created by SOE faculty, and dozens of students have talked to STC about commercializing their inventions.

The SOE is now unveiling Innovation for Life, a new culture that promotes creative thinking, more interdisciplinary collaborations, and new approaches to education. "We're really developing a culture where we produce students who are very innovative in everything they do and we're going to be innovative in the way we do that," promises Cecchi. The symbolic "home" of Innovation for Life will be the new Centennial Engineering Building. And the goals for this newest phase at the SOE? Innovations and technological advances to improve the way the world lives and works for decades to come.