Engineering Dean officially assumes new post
The new Dean of the School of Engineering Ned Thomas, who was appointed last spring, has now assumed his post in the department.
His goals as dean focus on increasing the exposure and quality of Rice's engineering program by providing more opportunities for student leaders and competitions.
Hailing from MIT's School of Engineering, Thomas was the head of the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering before coming to Rice.
In addition to an academic background, Thomas also has experience in entrepreneurship, starting multiple companies over the course of his career since his undergraduate days at the University of Massachusetts.
"Cambridge has that effect on people," Thomas said. "Once they drink the juice up there, a lot of them decide to start their own businesses."
Thomas cited two examples of organizations he's founded: OmniGuide, a medical devices company founded in 2000 that specializes in making minimally-invasive laser surgical tools, and the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, a division of MIT focused on serving soldiers by developing lightweight army gear and creating devices that can seek out bombs remotely.
He said the motivation behind these two creations sprung from his entrepreneurial experiences as an undergraduate and consequently, he wants to promote a similar environment for engineers at Rice. In Thomas' opinion, Rice – as a relatively small university – is the perfect size for cultivating excellence in engineering across the board.
Thomas described his vision as encouraging engineering students to engage in competition, to experience leadership in preparation for the working world and to increase their capacities to innovate. He said he especially emphasized connecting with entrepreneurs, and expressed support for programs like the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership and Rice Alliance.
"If a student gets involved in these programs, they may not eventually start their own company, but they'll meet people who might inspire them to explore the possibilities and innovate in other ways," Thomas said.
Martel College sophomore and chemical engineering student Luz Rocha said she thinks Thomas will be an effective dean and that his goal for developing leadership within the school of engineering is heading in the right direction, especially with recent initiatives like RCEL.
According to Rocha, RCEL helps engineering students connect with other engineering students outside of their major and year. She said she hopes the RCEL program will continue growing to include more events and ways to promote leadership and networking within the School of Engineering and she hope these efforts will extend the program's impact beyond Rice.
However, Rocha said the new dean might face challenges in implementing engineering leadership programs in ways that students will both enjoy and feel are crucial to their engineering education. Still, she added that she was optimistic about the feasibility of Thomas' vision.
"I think the vision can definitely become practical as leadership expands through engineering," Rocha noted. "I'm sure several engineering students are interested in that sort of thing and, given proper guidance, can definitely develop that interest into something more concrete that can eventually lead to entrepreneurship in engineering companies."
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“The broader university has a strategic plan — the V2C2 — and then each of the different schools are tasked with coming up with their own strategic plan,” Karlgaard said. “So I think there is a question about, ‘Should the general student body be involved in each of those strategic plans? If you are an English major, should you have input in the engineering strategic plan? If you are a non student-athlete, should you have input into the athletics strategic plan?’“