Founding Dean Keeps Female Students in Mind as She Plans New Engineering School

March 20, 2016

Campbell U.
Jenna P. Carpenter
As founding dean of the School of Engineering at Campbell University, Jenna P. Carpenter has the challenge of building a new program from the ground up.

To do that, she is relying on what she learned during 26 years on the faculty of the College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University, where she was associate dean for undergraduate studies and director of the Office for Women in Science and Engineering before she joined Campbell, in July. The curriculum she is trying to create at Campbell combines strong foundational courses with project-­intensive work. That format was inspired by Louisiana Tech’s first-year program, Living With the Lab.

Campbell’s new program will be the seventh undergraduate engineering school in North Carolina, but only the second at a private university in the state.

Students at Campbell had long requested an engineering major, says Ms. Carpenter, and interest in the subject was greater than the number of spots at other schools in the eastern and central regions of the state. The new major will start off with two concentrations: mechanical engineering, with a focus on 3-D printing, and chemical/pharmaceutical engineering.

"A lot of engineering schools have gotten where they really specialize those degrees, but if you get students to focus too narrowly too early, it limits their job opportunities down the road," says Ms. Carpenter. "Every kid needs circuits, every kid needs thermo. Nanotechnology, for example, didn’t exist when I was an undergrad, but I can understand it because I had the basic courses."

Now Ms. Carpenter is working on developing partnerships with companies in the state’s Research Triangle Park and overseeing the renovation of a building to temporarily house the school. "Traditional classrooms with desks won’t work," she says, and the university is instead creating spaces that have tables and chairs that can be reconfigured alongside white boards and lab stations.

Campbell expects to have about 50 students in its first engineering class this fall. The students who have been offered places so far would put the class at or above the national average for race and gender diversity, she says.

"We want to turn away from the traditional ‘trains, planes, automobiles’ perception to focus on the aspects of engineering that might attract more women," she says. For example, the recruitment posters, instead of emphasizing math and science, depict engineering as a creative field that uses design and problem-solving skills. — Angela Chen

Longevity and Risk

Patrick O’Connor Photography,
Ronald K. Machtley and his wife, Kati
Ronald K. Machtley, who has been president of Bryant University for the past 20 years, recently had his contract extended through 2020. His longevity is notable not just because the average tenure of a college leader is only seven years, but because he did not take a typical route to academic leadership.

After practicing law, Mr. Machtley served Rhode Island as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 to 1995. The year he left Congress, he also retired as a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

"A political background helps you to see that you have different constituencies, and they all have different needs," he says. "It allows you not to take things personally and to develop consensus."

Under his leadership, Bryant College was transformed into a university in 2004. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in its Colleges of Business, and of Arts and Sciences, and its new School of Health Sciences. The university also expanded its international reach last year by opening a business program in partnership with the Beijing Institute of Technology, in Zhuhai, China.

To remain competitive, the institution had to expand, he says. "The job of a leader is to look out into the future and not be focused on the risk of the moment."

Over the next four years, Mr. Machtley plans to concentrate on the university’s $75-million fund-raising campaign and continue to foster relationships that will help the program in China succeed.

He credits the length of his presidency to his wife, Kati, who, he says, "is as much a part of the university" as he is.

The first lady serves as chair of an annual interfaith prayer breakfast and as director of the university’s annual Women’s Summit, which brings in speakers and workshop leaders to serve as role models for success.

Over the past two decades, the couple has also taught freshman foundation classes and organized study-abroad trips.

Mr. Machtley says they wouldn’t have stayed so long if it weren’t for their connection with students.

"The beauty of being with students," he says, "is that my friends talk about supplemental health care, retirements; but that’s not part of the conversation with students." — Mary Bowerman

A Nearly Forgotten Need

Highline College
Ekkarath Sisavatdy
 Clichés about the model Asian-American student do little to help the students he serves at a community college in Washington State, says Ekkarath Sisavatdy.

Mr. Sisavatdy is director of an unusual new program at Highline College. His role is to increase enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of students who are from war-affected, formerly colonized, or economically distressed Pacific Rim countries like Cambodia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam, or who are descendants of aboriginal people on Pacific islands like American Samoa. Many of the students are from rural cultures where immediate family security has traditionally been a high priority, but pursuing higher education has not.

The Pacific Rim was once Mr. Sisavatdy’s home as well. His family fled Laos after the Communists came to power there in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

The program Mr. Sisavatdy is leading was created recently with a five-year, $1.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which designated Highline as an Asian-­American and Native American/Pacific Islander-­Serving Institution. The designation requires that at least 10 percent of students be in those ethnic groups. Funds are used to serve low-income students in the groups.

Highline, 25 miles south of Seattle, is one of only 10 colleges and universities to receive such a grant in the 2015 fiscal year. Approximately 70 percent of Highline’s enrollees are members of minority groups, more than 20 percent of whom are Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders. Many struggle financially and lack guidance through the college maze, says Mr. Sisavatdy, who has worked at the college for eight years, most recently as a program manager in advising.

The students demonstrate the shallowness of the stereotype that every Asian is a high-achieving "model minority student," he says. What really unites his students, and him, he says, is "the commonality we have as refugee immigrants. A lot of us have gone through the same experiences."

While the students tend to be second-­generation American residents, he calls himself Generation 1.5 because he and all of his seven siblings graduated from college. He also has a master’s degree in higher education. His father, a parliamentarian before the Communist takeover of Laos, was a strong influence on the family’s pursuit of degrees.

College enrollments in Washington State by, for example, Laotian-Americans and Samoan-­Americans, remain low. Mr. Sisavatdy says: "The model-minority myth is so dangerous because it’s really a distortion of where the hidden achievement gaps are." — Peter Monaghan

Prize for MOOC Founder

Anant Agarwal, chief executive of the online-­learning company edX and one of its founders, won a 2016 Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, in the U.S. higher-­education category. Mr. Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was cited for his leadership in the development of massive open online course, or MOOCs.

The learning-science company McGraw-Hill Education sponsors the award, in partnership with Arizona State University. It carries a cash prize of $50,000. — Ruth Hammond

White House to Academe

James Kvaal, the quiet force behind President Obama’s push for free community college, plans to spend some time in academe.

Mr. Kvaal stepped down this month from his White House role as deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council. He will be a "policy maker in residence" at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy for the fall semester. In that role, he is expected to teach two courses and engage with the community at a public event.

After the president proposed his plan for two free years of community college, in January 2015, Mr. Kvaal traveled the country to push state and local policy makers to adopt it. — Kelly Field

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