NM Tech Chemical Engineering Advisory Board

Comments and Actions from the October 29, 1998 Meeting

 

Summary

 

At the initiation of Dr. Weinkauf, individuals representing New Mexico industries had an initial meeting on NM Tech campus to provide critique and guidance to the newly formed program in chemical engineering.  The Board members present, all chemical engineers or involved in the chemical engineering technologies, were: Dave Boneau of Yates Petroleum, Don Hooper of INTEL, Kevin Honnell and Paul Wantuck of Los Alamos National Laboratory,  and Dick Traeger of Sandia National Laboratories.  Joel Williams of Los Alamos National Lab was unable to participate at this meeting.

 

Dr. Carl Popp welcomed the Board and provided an overview of Tech and thoughts for the future. The Board was then briefed by Dr. Weinkauf and the faculty on the overall program.  Following were discussions with students, a tour of the facilities, discussion with the faculty and a closed summary session.  Results of the review are detailed below.  In summary, the Board is most impressed by the dedication of Don Weinkauf, Bob Bretz, Robert Lee and others who put together this technically first rate program. The dedication, enthusiasm and positive attitudes of  faculty and students is overwhelming.  The potential for innovative curricula and teaching methods is being exploited to provide a truly meaningful education.  The consensus of the Board is that this program will grow far beyond that now being considered, and that resources must be provided to make Chemical Engineering a showcase of New Mexico Tech as well as a responsive supplier of engineers and technologies to New Mexico industries.

 

 

SUMMARY

 

Recognizing that we Board members have no history in the culture of New Mexico Tech, we make the following recommendations based on our impressions from one day on campus.  We understand that some recommendations may not be appropriate or are already a part of current strategies.  Consequently we solicit your acceptance of these impressions as the Board's attempt to support the Department and New Mexico Tech.  Our impressions are summarized in this section of the report with  detail  provided in the following section. All the statements reflect the opinion of the Board, and are not statements from the faculty or students.

 


Administration

 

     Excellence

            Financial support of $125,000 per year for three year start-up

            Support and encouragement of cross discipline interactions

            Providing laboratory space

            Approval for new, full time faculty

 

     Concerns

            Limited funding for overhead costs

            Apparent lack of engineering culture involvement in allocating resources and                                     planning at the university level

            Need to plan for continued faculty expansion

            Lack of start-up support for new faculty

 

Students

 

     Excellence

            School reputation

            True faculty interest in the lives of the students, and availability of the faculty

            Job opportunities on campus

             Involvement in research

            Industry perspectives of the faculty

 

      Concerns:

            Conflicting required classes extend time to get a degree         

            Initial course relevance and course continuity

 

Faculty 

                                                      

     Excellence

            Healthy interactions between departments and research centers

            Strong, sincere support by Petroleum Engineering faculty in

                        getting the program started, in teaching courses, and

                        providing research opportunities to the students and faculty.

     Concerns

            Fragmentation of the department offices and labs

            Limited research opportunities

            Start-up support for new faculty

            Additional salary support for department coordinator/head

 

Curriculum

 

     Excellence

            Interdisciplinary teaching of courses and research

            Requirement of Engineers in Training exam

            State of the art, integrated laboratory facilities

            Innovative teaching and interactions

 

     Concerns

            Value of current introductory course

            Continuing support for facility maintenance and modifications

            Needed incorporation of the safety culture

 

Facilities

  

    Excellence

            Availability of laboratory space

            New state-of-the-art equipment

  

   Concerns

            Apparent confusion of space reallocations at the EMRTC site.

            Need for space and equipment planning as the department grows

 

Chemical Engineering Advisory Board

   

    Excellence

            Enthusiasm and dedication of the current team

    

   Concerns

            Limited understanding of the NM Tech culture

            Need to include other industry representatives

 

 

 

The following notes summarize the observations of the Board.  Since words can eral meanings, we solicit personal interactions with Board member to clarify any issues.

 

ADMINISTRATION

 

Dr.Popp briefly reviewed the status  and goals for New Mexico Tech noting that approximately 40% of the university is engineering.  He also stated the administration's support and enthusiasm for this new engineering thrust.  Dr. Weinkauf said the administration support had been excellent, providing the $125,000 per year for three years of start up.

 

Probes by the Board on budget details indicated that the operating budget of the department was inadequate, limiting the ability of the faculty to effectively operate, and more important, limiting any outreach efforts to attract students, involve New Mexico industries, and advertise the school to federal and state governments.  One Board member suggested that the level of financial support to the department was a measure of the University s interest in the growth of the Department.  The consensus of the Board was a minimum of $20,000 per year must be provided to support needed department activities. This is significantly below support minimums in any of our industries.  Start-up funding for new faculty is an essential for attracting first class staff.  Start-up packages for new faculty at major universities are in the $200,000-$500,000 range allowing the new person to establish their research credentials and draw students. A start-up package of $50,000 per year for two to three years would seem essential to obtain new faculty who will continue to build the excellence of New Mexico Tech. A discussion of allocation of operating and research funds in the university was brief and the Board would appreciate a member of the administration reviewing the allocation processes at the next Board meeting.  The Board members sensed that although engineering represents 40% of the school program, the administration may lack useful input representing the engineering culture.          

 


STUDENTS

 

A closed session was held with undergraduate students representing all class levels.  In addition, the students joined us for discussions during lunch.

 

In contrast to most other universities, the students were enthusiastic, and could not say enough about the positive interactions with the faculty, opportunity for work, industrial perspectives, involvement in research projects, and the university as a whole. Their main concern, particularly transfer students, was schedule conflicts  for required courses across departments.  Although they volunteered this was due in part to the small department size and evolving curricula, they felt more consideration of conflicts between required courses across the curricula would be of benefit.  One student is seriously considering leaving Tech because the conflicts would unacceptably extend his time to degree.  Although understandable due to the size and newness of the department, the Board has concerns on the narrowness of exposure to industry, e.g. gas and oil focus provided no background for inorganic operations, semiconductor processes, biosystems etc. Although additional exposure of students to these fields is not possible with staff constraints, further interdisciplinary instruction might be considered for broadening course availability.

 

 

FACULTY

 

The dedication and enthusiasm of Professor Weinkauf is just outstanding.  He will develop an outstanding chemical engineering program but does need the continued support of the administration, finances to actually develop the department and student structure, and continuing effective interdepartmental interactions.  The Board's concern is that he cannot and should not maintain this intense pace and time commitment because his career and the university image will be negatively impacted.  We suggest he be provided full administrative salaries for the summer months to allow him to effectively build the program. (Note: We did not discuss salaries or salary policy so we have no knowledge of the current contractual arrangements)

    

All the faculty were positive about the department, the administration and interactions between the research centers and the department.  Their major concern seemed to be the fragmentation of their offices and labs (this was not considered to be a problem by the students).  They supported the concept of an undergraduate education focus with research interactions with graduate students from other departments for pursuit of research.

    

The Board identified potential concerns in a number of areas.  The positive interactions between the research centers and the department could become a crutch, both limiting the desire of the faculty to obtain external research support and restricting broadening of the educational opportunities for students.  Teaching loads and lack of overhead support limit opportunity to obtain external funding, to interact with their professional peers across the country, and to broaden their own capabilities.  The lack of resources is particularly limiting for the department head/coordinator, preventing any effective outreach effort for money, students or new faculty.

 

 

CURRICULUM

 

Discussion of curriculum and course content was limited.  The Board was most impressed with the integration of course and laboratory work in unit operations and process control.  The students were enthused about the labs, and the opportunity to see the real world while studying the theory.  The equipment, experiments and supporting facilities are state-of-the-art, but limited in scope as appropriate for this stage of the department development.

 

The multi-disciplinary nature of many of the courses was considered to be effective, and desirable.  Research interactions across department lines, and student involvement is outstanding and a real asset to the programs.  Students raised their concerns about the introductory courses (ES110 and some for ES111).  In discussions with students and faculty, the Board felt that ES110 was not relevant since large parts had been well covered in high school, and the computer/software education had no relation to future courses.  The Board believes the introductory courses need to be reviewed and probably modified (eg introduce widely used programs such as EXCEL).  We would suggest all or a portion focus on needs of the chemical engineers, and believe that this would benefit all engineering students.

    

Additional suggestions were to re-look at courses like Technical Writing where the course itself does not address engineering needs, and the writing requirements as well as presentation skills are effectively incorporated into existing laboratory courses. The Board immediately noted an apparent lack of safety practice, at least a required by our industries.  To protect students and faculty, and to make them more desirable employees, the Board strongly recommends that safety practice be implemented across the board.  Safety glasses in all labs at all times, hard hats at all times when working with big equipment, identification of hazards, incorporation of safety precautions in all experimental plans, and the use of MSDS forms where any chemicals (such as ammonia) are used.  Use of some of the AIChE safety problems for incorporation into existing course work may be of value.  The Board agrees that a formal course or lectures in safety are not effective, and safe practice must be ingrained in everyday operation.

    

The Board strongly supports the requirement for taking the Engineer in Training exam since professional registration is becoming a national requirement for all practicing engineers. We suggest an inducement for the students to pass the exam, such as credit for a one semester course.

 

 

FACILITIES

 

Establishment of the labs and implementation of the laboratory curriculum have been well done in a short time. The rapidly evolving nature of this chemical engineering program has limited the ability of the faculty to think ahead, but that thinking is needed.  Obvious uncertainty existed on the future of the current laboratory space (e.g. considered for expansion of EMRTC), expansion of the outdoor pad for a distillation column and new experiments etc.  With the labs in place, the staff also needs to look ahead to plan for changes in lab courses and identify future equipment needs.  Industry can be tapped for equipment if they know what equipment is needed.

    

Desires were also indicated for getting the department staff offices centralized for efficient operations and student interactions.  A working room for students would be effective for enhancing students helping students, and for providing a sense of ownership.  Such a room with computer support has been extensively used by students at other universities.

    

The Board believes resolution of any confusion on the space plans for the control and unit operations labs should be clarified shortly so current developments can cost effectively continue.  In concert with lab planning,  future equipment needs should be identified and plans made to obtain that equipment.  We also suggest that the department start addressing longer range space needs as a part of the University planning processes.

 

ADVISORY BOARD

 

The Board recognizes its own limitations since it has no Tech graduates nor members that are familiar with the Tech culture.  The Board members are enthused about this program and are dedicated to continuing support of the faculty and the University.  Recognizing the need to involve more of the State industries, the Board will attempt to identify other industry participants in this activity.  Kevin Honnell will lead this charge soliciting input from Board members and Tech staff.  To better understand the Tech culture and to better support the school, the Board has suggested two meetings a year for the start of this effort. We will  work with Don Weinkauf and Larry Teufel to develop a Board that can add significant value to the future of New Mexico Tech.

 

 

 

 

ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERSHIP

 

Dave Boneau               Yates Petroleum

Don Hooper                INTEL

Kevin Honnell             Los Alamos National Laboratory

Paul Wantuck              Los Alamos National Laboratory

Joel Williams              Los Alamos National Laboratory

Dick Traeger               Sandia National Laboratories