Looking back, looking ahead
By Chelsea Yates
May 28, 2019
After six years as the Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering, Mike Bragg will retire in June. Under his leadership, the College raised over $435 million in private support, completed three facilities projects, established the Institute for Nano-engineered Systems, secured state support to grow enrollment and expand facilities, and hired 80 new faculty members to join the UW community.
Dean Bragg anchored his leadership in two guiding principles: excellence and access. During his tenure, several initiatives to improve the student experience were advanced, including the introduction of the Direct-to-College (DTC) admissions process and the expansion of STARS, the academic redshirt program to increase access and diversity amongst the undergraduate student body. The College grew partnerships with UW Housing & Food Services to offer an engineering living-learning community and makerspaces in residence halls, and in conjunction with the UW Career Center, opened the Career Center @ Engineering to support and connect engineering students and industry partners.
The College of Engineering’s Chelsea Yates recently sat down with Dean Bragg to reflect on where the College has been since he arrived on campus and where it’s headed next.
What were your priorities for the College when you arrived at the UW?
When I arrived, the College was recovering from the Great Recession and experiencing unprecedented demand from the community for engineering education. I intended to focus on expanding the College, building connections with local industry, supporting the research mission and addressing our aging infrastructure. What perhaps surprised me was that soon after arriving it became clear the undergraduate experience needed attention. Our admission process was outdated and in need of revision. Students identified admissions and department placement as areas that had the greatest potential to improve the student experience. It’s what ultimately led us to pursue DTC.
Of all that’s been accomplished in the last six years, what do you see as having the most impact?
The implementation of DTC and our work to expand diversity and access programs. As a great public university, the UW must serve all the communities in the state. Engineering is centered on problem solving, and research shows that diverse teams lead to more innovative solutions. A diverse faculty and student body enables all students to interact with peers who have varied perspectives rooted in different backgrounds. These experiences are highly valued by employers and give students the skills they need to succeed in an interconnected world.
I’m proud that the UW has the highest percentage (24.2%) of female faculty in the top 25 colleges of engineering, but that number still needs to be higher. Similarly, our access and diversity programs, like STARS, are making important interventions, but there’s still more work to do. The state’s investment to increase enrollment has also had great impact and the College has almost doubled in degrees granted since 2009.
What do you see as the College’s top priorities moving forward?
Expanding engineering education opportunities and facilities to serve more Washington students. The state of Washington is the top importer of engineers with bachelor’s and advanced degrees because our universities aren’t keeping up with demand.
This spring’s legislative session ended with great support for UW Engineering, which is promising. Legislators created a dedicated revenue source through an increase in the Business and Occupation Tax on certain professional businesses and services. Through this new revenue source the state legislature voted to provide funding to increase engineering enrollment and support our highly impactful STARS program. This is a positive investment in our state’s future, and I’m thankful to those who worked hard to make it happen.
It’s important to understand how the nature of engineering education has changed. When I was in school, I went to class and then home or to the library to study. For that education model, a traditional classroom facility fit. But today’s engineering education focuses on project-based learning — hands-on research and prototyping, design challenges, crossdisciplinary teamwork — activities that require different kinds of facilities. The legislature has voted to invest in the design of a new engineering facility — a greatly needed step in our public/private campaign to build a new interdisciplinary teaching and research building. But there’s more work ahead.
What opportunities are on the horizon for the College?
There is such a wonderful engineering and tech community here in the Northwest and many opportunities to continue to grow and deepen our connections with industry. This is an exciting time to be an engineer and a researcher. Data science and artificial intelligence are changing our world and quantum systems promise the next revolution.
The UW is poised to lead in the research, implementation, and education critical to our future economy and personal well-being. This is a college that is ascending, and I’d like to see us be even more visible in the region and connect with more engineering leaders across the state. But also on the global stage — it’s important to explore and build partnerships with industry worldwide.
What role can alumni play?
Meeting and interacting with so many interesting and distinguished alumni has been a highlight of my tenure as dean. Whether they’re leading companies or starting out in their professional careers, alumni can help build connections, mentor students, share their insight and support research and other opportunities on campus. Alumni are crucial to the success of our Be Boundless campaign; the impact of that support will be felt for years to come.
How can the College best serve the state of Washington?
By providing a world-class education for more Washington students, most of whom stay in the state after graduating. They work here, start companies, develop and contribute to products and technologies — all of which helps feed the state’s economy. I think this is especially valuable to small companies that may not have the ability to recruit and hire nationally.
We also benefit Washington by serving as an engine of innovation and encouraging students and faculty in technology translation and commercialization. Since 2012, the College has been responsible for 55% of all of UW’s startups. The world-class education and research enterprise that we deliver is thanks to our outstanding faculty and staff. The College is an incredible asset to this community and our students.
What are your plans for retirement?
I will continue my research and advise graduate students as an emeritus faculty member in Aeronautics & Astronautics. I’m also looking forward to traveling, spending time with family and supporting initiatives around broader access to higher education.
The College of Engineering thanks Dean Bragg for his leadership and wishes him well in his retirement.