UMass Lowell engineering educators design new challenges

08/03/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By SUSAN McMAHON
Sun Staff

 

LOWELL - The issues are many a tight budget, a region that needs more engineering graduates, a paucity of interest in the field at the younger grades.

Now, UMass Lowell has two leaders ready to take on the challenge.

Civil and Engineering Department Chairman John Ting recently became dean of the school's Engineering Department, replacing Krishna Vedula, who has been dean since 1995.

Vedula is stepping down to become program director for the National Science Foundation, working on issues in K-12 math and science education at both the state and national levels. While still working as a faculty member at UMass Lowell, he will explore and develop research and program opportunities at a different level.

Despite a changing of the guard in the Engineering Department, much will remain the same at UMass Lowell.

The focus will still be on producing well-educated engineers, and helping to improve K-12 science and math education to ensure that students are prepared when they walk through the doors.

With a dearth of math and science educators, and education itself reaching a crisis level to the point where students coming to UMass Lowell are not at the level of readiness professors would expect UMass Lowell is poised to play a key role in improving the system.

That priority will continue with Ting's tenure, said the new dean. And the university will also continue to focus on providing exceptional talent to regional businesses and industry.

'We're a public institution,' Ting said. 'We have a duty to serve the public.'

Vedula will remain on the faculty at UMass Lowell and plans to continue overseeing projects like DesignCamp, which encourages young people to get interested in math and science at an early age.

The new project will help him to expand his ideas on the importance of K-12 education beyond the university, with new initiatives and research projects that could have a much broader reach.

But the work that has been, and will continue to be done, at UMass Lowell is essential.

'It's almost like a birthright. That's what this place is,' Vedula said. 'We are historically destined to be this campus with engineering and technology education, as well as be the teachers that provide the pipeline.'

UMass Lowell started as the Lowell Technical College, a training ground for local industry. The Normal School, which trained teachers, was also one of three schools that merged to eventually form the present-day university.

Those two streams a technological education and teacher development make UMass Lowell the place to develop and strengthen the knowledge sector, from kindergarten through doctorates.

Even in a time of difficult budgets, those priorities will continue, the current and former dean say.

'We have to be careful not to do everything,' Vedula said. 'Our strength, technology education and teaching, is the foundation on which we build everything else. Those two together can have a major impact on sustaining the economic development of the region.'

'And that will not change,' Ting said.

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .