By Ned Thomas
Special to Rice News
Editor’s note: The commentary below originally appeared in the June 26 Dean’s (Final) Message from the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
“So long, and thanks for all the fish!”
That’s the title of a great Doug Adams book inspired by a message left from all the dolphins as they exited Planet Earth because of the coming of the hyperspace bypass. So, as I depart Planet Rice for my sabbatical at the University of Virginia after six years as serving as your dean of engineering, I am inspired to take this opportunity to leave a message.
First some words of praise for the things we in the School of Engineering do very well: OEDK (Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen), RCEL (Rice Center for Engineering Leadership), the Engineering Design Showcase, high-spirited clubs, rigorous mathy-engineering fundamentals, hands-on engineering, materials — from plasmonics to water purification to machine learning to sensing, student organizations like NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), CSters (Rice Women in Computing), SWE (Rice Society of Women Engineers — there are 35 percent women in the school!), and of course the three ships: leadership, internships and entrepreneurship. Students, faculty and staff should definitely feel very good about these awesome and distinctive aspects of our school.
But to become an even greater place, we need to continually work to get better. We need to push ourselves to do more, to collaborate and team together, to plan better and by grit, and dedication, deliver on our ambitious dreams. We need to improve our ability to launch new ventures (and now is the time to do this with the Vision for the Second Century II, or V2C2, on the horizon). Indeed, there are some really cool and highly impactful BLUE SKY IDEAS that are percolating through the faculty (many of these are led by younger faculty who are the future of Rice engineering!) that I am sure will become enabled by the new university fundraising campaign. Indeed, these research thrusts will allow us to address problems of critical importance for the planet! We need to exploit the qualities that set Rice apart — our relative small size and the ability to get to really know people, the tight-knit community of researchers — teachers: remember: (R+T)^2! We need to continue to build diversity in our faculty and student body and to build buildings — our substantial growth in students and in research drives the need for modern new infrastructure for the school and it is my hope that we will be able to inspire donors to help us — not only based on the obvious need for space — but on the great things we can accomplish in these new spaces so that Rice engineers can positively impact the many challenging problems our planet faces.
Finally, I need to admit that a dean doesn’t actually do things — mostly it is organizing and leading/inspiring others to do the things — so I want to give my leadership team of department chairs and my extraordinary Dean’s Office Staff a most heartfelt thanks for their dedication and devotion to the great George R. Brown School of Engineering. It’s been an honor and privilege to have served as your dean. So long, and genuine thanks for allowing me the chance to serve this great school.
–Ned Thomas completed his role as the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering June 30. He is a professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
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