A unique leadership opportunity awaits the right individual who seeks to join a growing research university and academic health center as the next dean of the UAB School of Engineering. Just entering its second half-century, the University of Alabama at Birmingham has already established itself as a major research university, ranked 16th in the nation among publics and 32nd overall in federally-funded research expenditures. In June 2019, for the second year in a row, UAB was ranked as the top young university in the United States, and 12th worldwide, in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 2019 Young University Rankings. These rankings are based on comprehensive and balanced comparisons across three broad areas: research, outreach, and stewardship.
The School of Engineering, UAB, the City of Birmingham, and the State of Alabama have a shared vision for pursuing exciting entrepreneurship and economic development opportunities to their mutual benefit. Located in Alabama’s largest city and the state’s hub for medical and research activity, the University enjoys a special relationship with Birmingham, a primary industrial center in the region with a diverse economy and strengths across several industries including healthcare, banking, telecommunications, electrical power transmission, and transportation. The ingredients for success are there; preliminary approval has been obtained for a new $64.5 million Science and Engineering Complex to house the School of Engineering as well as other STEM departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. The new mayor of the City of Birmingham has invigorated its economic development efforts under the leadership of a recent UAB graduate and Rhodes Scholar. The Innovation Depot is filled to capacity with technology startups and entrepreneurs. Southern Research, an affiliated 501(c)(3) scientific research organization with more than 400 scientists and engineers, offers more opportunities than ever before for collaboration with UAB.
The University seeks an inspirational and entrepreneurial dean for its School of Engineering to take these ingredients and apply engineering disciplines to train future engineers and to translate research to application for the greater good of society.
The new dean will demonstrate a true commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through accomplishments in previous positions. It is also essential that the new dean be willing and able to balance relative autonomy in and accountability for financial and academic affairs with a concurrent obligation to be a leader and citizen of the larger University. He or she should actively embrace the external aspects of the position such as student recruitment, philanthropic advancement, and industry collaborations.
The UAB School of Engineering
The UAB School of Engineering has the potential to be at the core of UAB’s future. As one example, the talent and work of its biomedical engineering faculty are integral to UAB’s role as a leading academic medical center. The new knowledge being created in the School can be the basis for entrepreneurial applications across a range of areas. Each of its engineering disciplines serves society’s needs for practical applications of science and technology, from human tissue and medical device engineering to fight disease and injury, to building sustainable urban infrastructures, to designing new materials fueling the growth of the manufacturing sector, to engineering the future of space travel. See below for the stories of these efforts in the School’s five departments. UAB seeks an entrepreneurial leader for the School of Engineering to inspire others, inside and outside the School.
The School has 57 full-time faculty members, 30 of whom are tenured and eight of whom are on the tenure-track. Fourteen percent of the faculty are women. Notable faculty achievements in recent years include:
•The School’s Engineering Innovation and Technology Development research group (EITD) is a partner in a $500 million Research, Engineering, and Mission Integration program at NASA for the International Space Station program office. Recently, the group doubled the size of its contract with NASA, giving EITD a new $50 million cap on work to provide and maintain freezer units for the International Space Station. In late 2018, EITD reached a milestone with a record 17 UAB payloads on board the International Space Station. EITD is led by Professor Lee Moradi, PhD, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
•Professor Virginia Sisiopiku, PhD, of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, is the founding director of the UAB Transportation Engineering and Development (TREND) Lab that develops solutions to transportation challenges. For example, Dr. Sisiopiku has been funded by the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education (STRIDE) Center to investigate the influence of companies such as Uber and Lyft on travelers’ choices and behaviors and the resulting impacts on local and regional congestion.
•Chair of Biomedical Engineering Professor Jay Zhang, MD, PhD, and Assistant Professor Wuqiang Zhu, MD, PhD, have discovered that the hearts of newborn piglets can almost completely heal themselves after experimental heart attacks, suggesting that surgery to correct congenital heart defects in newborn humans may benefit if done immediately after birth. Their research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
Enrollment and degree data from 2018-19 school year:
•Undergraduate enrollment: 903
•Undergraduate degrees awarded: 167
•Graduate enrollment: 583
•Master’s degrees awarded: 204
•PhD degrees awarded: 19
One of the foundations of UAB has been its commitment that the diversity of its students is important to fulfilling its strategic goals. UAB is one of the most diverse universities in the nation. As of fall 2018, 39.7% of the student body was composed of underrepresented minorities, and underrepresented minority students made up a similar percentage of the freshman class (40.5%). The total student population is 21.9% African American and just over 61.9% percent female. UAB has nearly 1,000 international students enrolled who, along with over 600 international faculty, staff, and visiting scholars on campus, represent more than 100 countries around the world.
For the School of Engineering, the diversity statistics were as follows for its students as of June 2019:
•Women: 377 (25%)
•Underrepresented minorities*: 266 (18%)
•Asian Americans: 58 (4%)
•Foreign nationals: 237 (16%)
•Alabama residents: 825 (63%)
*African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
Notwithstanding its high levels of diversity, UAB has set additional goals for increasing the number of underrepresented students generally, underrepresented students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and female students in STEM.
The School of Engineering is an active participant in helping to achieve those diversity goals. The School is home to an active chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which holds meetings throughout the year to support and mentor female engineering students. Each year the group invites students in grades 4-6 to attend a Kids in Engineering event where they can participate in a variety of activities and competitions designed to provide insight into different types of science, technology, engineering, and math concepts.
Another example of faculty involvement in STEM recruitment is Abidin Yildirim, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, who was recently honored with the UAB President’s Diversity Award for his founding work with his department’s Continuous STEM program, which brings low-income, disadvantaged, and minority students in the Birmingham area to campus each month for STEM education activities.
Programs and Research
The School of Engineering was one of the first schools created at UAB after the University was established in 1969. It is organized into five departments: (1) Biomedical Engineering; (2) Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering; (3) Electrical and Computer Engineering; (4) Materials Science and Engineering; and (5) Mechanical Engineering. Each department offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs. Eighteen degree options are offered across the five departments. There are a variety of “fast track” programs enabling undergraduates to obtain both bachelor’s and master’s degrees on an expedited timeline. There are also a variety of online master’s programs. All five baccalaureate programs in the School are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. In 2018, the ABET evaluation visit found no deficiencies, weaknesses or concerns. The School of Engineering will have its next reaccreditation evaluation visit in 2025.
The School also offers a Master of Engineering degree with a concentration in Advanced Safety Engineering and Management, Construction Engineering Management, Information Engineering Management, Structural Engineering, Sustainable Smart Cities, and Design and Commercialization, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering.
Biomedical Engineering: The Department of Biomedical Engineering tackles some of the most daunting health problems facing society, creating new knowledge ranging from imaging devices, to implants, to tissue engineering. A jointly-held department with the UAB School of Medicine, it received more than $5 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health last year, ranking it fourth in NIH funding among all bioengineering departments for the second year in a row.
Faculty have been extremely productive in publication of the new knowledge created from their research, with more than 70 articles appearing since 2018 in top journals, covering a variety of research areas including: heart failure, atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis, retinal diseases, glaucoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, glioma and other neuro-oncology treatments, skin wound healing, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related obesity, airway muscle disorders, tooth dentin regeneration, and renal injury.
The department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering, with concentrations in Biomechanics, Biomaterials, or Tissue Engineering. The department has teamed with the undergraduate Neuroscience Program in the College of Arts and Sciences to create a Neuroengineering minor. It also offers Master of Science and PhD degree in Biomedical Engineering.
The department has 17 full-time faculty members.
Civil Engineering: The Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) department offers a distinguished program of undergraduate and graduate study and cutting-edge research covering various facets of civil engineering theory and practice. Focus areas of the program include: structural, environmental, and transportation engineering, and construction engineering management. The department has an online master’s program in sustainable smart cities, in a joint venture with Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom. The program is designed to teach students how to build cities as engines of economic growth, but in a way that manages poverty, social exclusion, and environmental degradation.
Several faculty have recently published papers on societal infrastructure issues. Chair and Professor Fouad Fouad, PhD, is an internationally-recognized expert in, and regularly publishes on, reinforced concrete structures used in highways and other structures. Likewise, Professor Nasim Uddin, PhD, has published on various types of structures to enhance bridge infrastructure safety. Dr. Virginia Sisiopiku is an expert on travel patterns and preferences and has published and presented recently on the travel preferences of both university students and women. Professor Robert Peters, PhD, has published and presented on vertical gardening techniques in urban areas to provide produce in low-income communities and “food deserts.”
The department offers a Bachelor of Science degree, as well as a minor, in Civil Engineering. It also offers Master of Science and PhD degrees in Civil Engineering.
The department has 12 full-time faculty members.
Electrical and Computer Engineering: The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering produces highly trained engineers across a wide variety of roles in high-tech industry, research, and education. Faculty scholarship and research in the department cuts across several areas and into other disciplines. Interdisciplinary research projects in the department include implantable micro devices for biomedical applications such as neuromuscular stimulators, cochlear implants, and visual prostheses. Assistant Professor Mohammad Haider, PhD, is collaborating with researchers in the UAB School of Medicine on the development of a non-invasive wearable device that detects blood thromboses and monitors the presence or absence of blood flow of patients undergoing kidney dialysis. A UAB School of Medicine nephrologist has built a prototype, and Dr. Haider and his students are working to miniaturize the device.
Recent presentations and publications by faculty have been not only in biomedical disciplines, but also in the electrical engineering areas of power transfer and sensor systems.
The department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and an undergraduate minor in Electrical Engineering and Software. It also offers a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a PhD in Computer Engineering.
The department has 10 full-time faculty members
Materials Engineering: The faculty and students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering explore the structures and forces that control the engineering properties of metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites. Such materials are crucial in manufacturing processes in industries such as aerospace and automobiles, which like all industries, must evolve in their scientific underpinnings in order to thrive.
Faculty in Materials Engineering also collaborate outside the School of Engineering on health-related research. For example, Assistant Professor Vinoy Thomas, PhD, is part of a team with faculty from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and from the University of Alabama in Huntsville that is perfecting the design of vascular graft tubes used in cardiovascular implants. Dr. Thomas leads a Polymers & Healthcare Materials/Devices Lab, a multi-disciplinary research group that also includes graduate and undergraduate students.
Associate Professor Amber Genau, PhD, is the recipient of the prestigious NSF CAREER Award (in the 3rd year of funding) and has active grants with NASA. Dr. Genau is the Program Director for the Tri-Campus Materials Science PhD program, a collaborative effort of UAB, the University of Alabama, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Engineering with a choice of concentrations in Biomaterials, Metallurgy, and Polymer Matrix Composites. It also offers a Master of Science degree in Materials Engineering (including a “fast-track” option) and a PhD in Materials Science.
The department has 11 full-time faculty members.
Mechanical Engineering: The Department of Mechanical Engineering at UAB has focused its efforts in this broad discipline in two major areas: mechanical systems and thermal systems. In thermal systems research and application, faculty and students in the department have been key players in UAB’s own energy systems management. With help from the Mechanical Engineering Department, UAB has recently completed a major new steam generation project which meets the heating and cooling needs of 150 separate buildings on UAB’s campus in an environmentally sound manner.
Two researchers in the Mechanical Engineering Department are addressing highway safety issues in two very different ways. Professor Dean Sicking, PhD, has numerous patents for highway guardrail terminals. He and his team are working on a design for a “smart” crash cushion that can record data from crashes and can be restored remotely after a crash. Professor Vladimir Vantsevich, PhD, recently received a grant to develop a prototype of a utility truck that can alter its physical makeup in response to changing weather conditions. The expectation is that this technology will allow fleets of utility vehicles to access disaster areas during extreme weather events, adapting to high winds, high water, or icy conditions. Dr. Vantsevich is collaborating on this research with Professor Nasim Uddin, PhD, from the Department of Civil Engineering and Associate Professor Roy Koomillil, PhD, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
A graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering was recently awarded the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. It also offers a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and has proposed a PhD program.
The department has 11 full-time faculty members.
Research and Budget
Operating expenses for the School of Engineering were $13.3 million in 2018 and miscellaneous department funds accounted for an additional $5.1 million. Research expenditures in the School of Engineering were approximately $12 million in 2018. Top funding agencies were NASA, the Department of Defense, NIH, and the National Science Foundation.
The School of Engineering’s current strategic plan predates by several years UAB’s plan, Forging the Future. Both plans are the result of comprehensive strategic thinking that defined their closely-aligned missions, visions, values and goals — and outlined strategies for achieving them. The four mission pillars of the UAB plan are: Education; Research, Innovation & Economic Development; Community Engagement; and Patient Care. In addition, there are several key foundations underlying the plan, including: Diversity; Philanthropy; and Stewardship. The School of Engineering’s plan has the following focus areas: Education; Research; Partnerships; Financial Sustainability; and Visibility. The plan is due to be updated by 2021.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)
Commitment to Community
For five decades, UAB has been pushing frontiers on its campus in Birmingham. UAB is proud to be located in the heart of “the Magic City,” Birmingham, and is committed not only to creating new knowledge through research, but also to translating that knowledge to improve the community, and indeed to improve society.
A recent study showed that UAB’s annual economic impact in Alabama had grown to $7.15 billion a year in 2016, a 55% increase from just eight years prior to that. UAB now directly employs more than 23,000 and supports more than 64,000 jobs – one out of every 31 in Alabama. UAB’s strategic plan for 2018-2023, Forging the Future, has an ambitious goal of increasing its overall economic impact to $11 billion a year by 2023.
Closely related to UAB’s economic impact is its community engagement. Measured by the total value of volunteer time by, and donations from, UAB students, faculty, and staff, the University’s community outreach totaled $80.5 million in 2016. The University’s goal is to increase this to $89 million by 2023. Every school and college is engaged in important service programs, locally and globally, and service‐learning is deeply ingrained across the curricula. UAB itself has a history of collaboration with the City of Birmingham, including collaboration on a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for “Innovate Birmingham” an organization aimed at growing a robust, technology‐based economy for the region.
As noted above, the new mayor of the City of Birmingham has invigorated its economic development efforts.
Recently, UAB announced that a dramatic initiative to elevate Alabama out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings by the year 2030 was the winning project selected for the inaugural UAB “Grand Challenge.” “Healthy Alabama 2030: Live HealthSmart” will seek to expand proven innovations and to change policies, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces to make Alabama a model of healthy living. Several faculty from the School of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering are members of this team. They will focus on the health impacts of the “built environment.” The Grand Challenge is a key component of Forging the Future.
UAB is part of Alabama’s largest higher education enterprise, The University of Alabama System. The other universities in the system are the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The School of Engineering has a joint degree program in Civil Engineering and a Computer Engineering PhD program with UAH. The School also participates in the Tri-Campus PhD Program in Materials Science with the University of Alabama and UAH.
Located in the heart of the Southeast, Birmingham is a short drive from Atlanta, Nashville, Chattanooga, New Orleans, Memphis, and Gulf Coast beaches. With picturesque surroundings, some of the most beautiful suburbs in the United States border the city. Birmingham has been recognized as an “All-America City” by the National Civic League, highlighting it as one of the top ten American cities in which to live and work, and one of the top ten entrepreneurial and job growth hot spots in America.
There are a host of attractions only a short walk from UAB’s campus, including famous monuments devoted to the civil rights struggles of Birmingham’s past. Arts and culture in the city are supported by multiple museums, numerous galleries, music & arts festivals, many performance theatres, live music venues, a ballet, an opera, a School of Fine Arts, and the Jazz Hall of Fame. In September 1996, the UAB Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center became the home of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Downtown Birmingham has enjoyed an epic revitalization in recent years, with the advent of numerous residential, craft brewery, sporting, music, and outdoor entertainment developments. Birmingham’s Galleria is among the largest malls in the country, and it’s just one of dozens of retail options in town. In the past decade, two professional and minor league sports teams put down roots in the city. It is also a foodie town with the addition of a recent James Beard Foundation award-winning bar and grill and many other southern restaurants about which food critics are raving.
Birmingham is in proximity to many state and national parks, lakes, urban greenspaces, and hiking and biking trails, and is just a few hours from both beaches and mountains. Birmingham also has more green space per capita than any other major city in the United States. Whether it be the pleasant weather, geography, diverse culture, activities, or lifestyle, there is something for everyone in Birmingham, making the city a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
At A Glance
•Experienced record‐high enrollment in 2018, with a freshman class that was one of the largest, and its most academically-qualified, ever.
•Has a total enrollment of over 22,000 students.
•Has a student body that is made up of 77% Alabama residents.
•Offers more than 161 degree options.
•Has a total budget of $1.3 billion.
•Has had record numbers of students receiving national and international fellowships and scholarships in recent years, including three students named as 2019 Goldwater Scholars and two students named as Rhodes Scholars since 2011.
UAB is home to Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Optometry, Public Health, Health Professions, Engineering, Business, Education, and the College of Arts & Sciences. There are over 2,300 faculty in these schools. In addition, the Graduate School and the Honors College are organized to provide the special resources necessary for students and faculty in those schools to be successful.
The UAB Libraries are integrated academic and health science libraries reflective of UAB’s unique role as both a major research and teaching institution and as an academic medical center. The Libraries have 32 librarian faculty and approximately 40 non-librarian staff. About one-third of the faculty have been recruited in national searches within the past five years, including a full-time librarian specializing in emerging library technologies, such as virtual reality, 3-D printing, and other information visualization technologies. Fourteen of the librarian faculty are designated as “liaisons” to the various UAB colleges and schools. The Libraries have a total of approximately 1.8 million volumes.
One of the pillars of Forging the Future is for UAB to empower innovative research, scholarship, and creative activities that drive knowledge creation focused on improving society. Research expenditures are an indicator of real costs for research incurred, and during the 2017-2018 academic year, UAB had $561 million in such expenditures.
Many faculty conduct research in university‐wide interdisciplinary research centers that span more than one academic school at UAB. UAB’s interdisciplinary culture presents its faculty with the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other schools, departments, and disciplines who have comparable or complementary research interests. As noted above, the School’s Civil Engineering faculty are part of the winning Grand Challenge project team led by faculty in the School of Medicine; “Healthy Alabama 2030” to improve key health indicators in Alabama. A project led by Civil Engineering Professor Nasim Uddin, PhD, that included more than 30 faculty from eight different UAB schools was a Grand Challenge finalist. That project was titled “Birmingham 2020: Roadmap to a Model City,” and its goal was to combine massive amounts of sensor data with social data to build accurate pictures of a local community’s most pressing needs.
As an indicator of UAB’s recent success in accelerating the pace of its federally-funded research, the School of Medicine was recently named one of the “Elite Eight” of academic medical centers in the United States, as it was one of only eight schools in the nation to see an increase of more than $100 million in net NIH funding over the past five years. Among those eight schools, UAB ranked second in percentage growth in funding, behind only Northwestern University.
The School of Engineering has several collaborative programs with the UAB Collat School of Business. Beginning in 2019, in a joint program with the Collat School of Business, UAB began to offer a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management with seven concentrations. This program is designed to allow engineers to advance their careers by pursuing both specialized engineering skills as well as business skills.
UAB’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) was established in 2008 and is funded by a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The only CTSA in Alabama, CCTS serves a population with a heavy burden of cardiometabolic, vascular, and cancer-related diseases. The center offers numerous opportunities for collaborative research with the School of Engineering.
UAB’s affiliation with Southern Research, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, scientific research organization with more than 400 scientists and engineers working in several disciplines, including engineering as well as energy & environment, presents attractive opportunities for collaboration. UAB and Southern Research have recently jointly funded several one-year collaborative research pilots for faculty at the School of Engineering and other UAB schools, working with scientists at SR. These collaborations offer significant revenue opportunities for the School of Engineering.
Governance and Leadership at UAB
The University of Alabama System consists of three doctoral research universities: The University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and The University of Alabama in Huntsville. The System is governed by The Board of Trustees. Each of the component institutions has a unique mission that is consistent with the broader mission of the System. The System’s chief executive officer is Finis St. John, IV, who served for 17 years on the Board of Trustees before becoming Chancellor in 2019.
President Ray Watts, MD, became UAB’s seventh president in 2013. Prior to being named president, Dr. Watts had been senior vice president and dean of the School of Medicine since 2010. From 2007 to 2010, he was the John N. Whitaker Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology in the UAB School of Medicine.
Dr. Watts is a Birmingham native and earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the UAB School of Engineering in 1976. The collaborations he had with biomedical engineering students as an undergraduate sparked an interest in medicine, and, four years later, he graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as valedictorian of his class. He later joined the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta, where he was part of a team that created an internationally renowned research and clinical center for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.
Dr. Watts is a passionate advocate for the value of strategic planning to inspire others toward growing the University and achieving excellence. UAB’s strategic plan Forging the Future is its blueprint for growth between 2018 and 2023. The more than 23,000 employees of UAB have taken this blueprint and have set measurable goals, allocating resources and establishing metrics to assess progress, all to build an even brighter future.
Provost Pamela Benoit, PhD, became senior vice president of Academic Affairs and provost at UAB in 2017. She joined UAB from Ohio University, where she served as executive vice president and provost for eight years.
As chief academic officer of UAB, Dr. Benoit has general oversight of all academic affairs. The deans of the University’s schools and college report to her, and she also leads the professionals in the Office of the Provost who are responsible for functions such as enrollment, faculty relations, institutional effectiveness analysis, academic planning, and international student and scholar services. She works closely with President Watts on strategic planning and implementation initiatives. Under her leadership, and as contemplated by the Forging the Future strategic plan, UAB has established a committee composed of faculty, students, parents, and community members to develop a Signature Core Curriculum that will address competencies that are critical for a 21st century curriculum and will better equip students to meet their post-graduation goals.
Benoit is on the board of directors of HERS (Higher Education Resource Services), a leadership development and research organization that is dedicated to creating and sustaining a diverse network of women leaders in higher education.
Earlier in her career, Benoit held several leadership positions at the University of Missouri, where she chaired the Department of Communications in the College of Arts and Sciences and served as vice provost and dean of the Graduate School before being named executive vice president and provost at Ohio University. She received her master’s degree in communication from Central Michigan University and her PhD in communication