From the Dean
For the second consecutive year, the University of Michigan has made The Chronicle of Higher Education's list of “Great Colleges to Work For,” which recognizes colleges and universities for best workplace practices and policies.
I consider the faculty and staff of the University of Michigan fortunate to be employed by this great institution, myself included. Of course, each of us has been born with a set of talents and has worked hard for our opportunities. But so have many others at places not on The Chronicle's list. It is clear to me that the University helps to breed success. (In his most recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell argues that one’s surroundings – people around us, values of our environment – have a profound effect on who we are, beyond our individual efforts.) As a result, and especially in this difficult economic time, I think we should be generous with our good fortune.
One avenue of sharing is public service.
Two areas where we are seizing opportunities to serve the public are healthcare and energy.
From a teaching and research perspective, we are engaged fully in exploring academic problems and finding laboratory solutions in these critical disciplines. But beyond these motives, our innovative, interdisciplinary teaching and research programs also are serving local, national and international communities.
For example, as you might have heard, last summer the University completed the purchase of the former Pfizer complex, adjacent to North Campus. The Medical School, College of Engineering and several other units of the University are working together to identify ways to use this tremendous resource for the greatest good. In addition to ample research possibilities, the planning team is investigating economic-development avenues for the region connected to start-up companies and government-University partnerships.
In the area of energy, last year, DTE Energy and the University established the Clean Energy Prize competition through the Michigan Engineering-based Center for Entrepreneurship. The purpose was to encourage entrepreneurship and the development of clean energy technology in the State of Michigan. One of the finalists, Husk Insulation, aims to convert plant-based agricultural waste into high-grade insulation. It was formed during a New Venture Creation class in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. The student who brought the technology to the group had worked with the developer, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The team has attracted the attention of venture capitalists.
Beyond institutionally created opportunities, service often springs from the individual initiative of students and faculty. Founded by students, M-HEAL, Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives, repairs, designs and builds medical devices to improve access to healthcare in underdeveloped nations. BLUElab, Better Living Using Engineering Laboratory, founded by faculty and graduate students, works toward sustainable solutions to development problems at home and abroad. We are emphasizing such social entrepreneurship efforts in the College, and I have even considered proposing a service requirement for a Michigan Engineering degree. This partly stems from my own experiences as a student when I volunteered one evening per week at a boys’ prison and also was part of a musical group that performed benefit concerts for charitable causes.
Public service is the theme of this issue. You’ll read several stories of alumni, students and faculty who, as volunteers and in their careers, are doing remarkable things in service to others.
No doubt, you, too, are doing your part in your community. My hope is that these stories might inspire you to do even more as you read about The Michigan Difference.
David C. Munson, Jr.
Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science