New dean's goal is an inspirational education experience for engineering students
Paul Johnson is the new dean of Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. But he’s far from new to the leadership of the university and the engineering schools.
He’s been the engineering schools’ executive dean for the past four years – essentially the chief operating officer working under former dean Deirdre Meldrum. For two years previous to that, Johnson was the associate vice president for research for the university. Before that he was the associate dean of research for engineering.
Johnson has taught and conducted research at ASU since 1994, while continuing periodic work as a consultant to industry and public agencies. Prior to coming to the university, he spent several years as a research engineer for Shell Oil corporation.
Preparing for challenges
This wealth of experience has shaped his vision for the future of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
“Our mission is to produce new engineers prepared to succeed in a society that is more rapidly changing and technologically advanced than at any time in history,” Johnson says.
“We want our students to be adaptable to a fast-paced world and ready to pursue solutions to the most critical engineering challenges facing people everywhere,” he says.
To Johnson, this means creating an educational environment that offers much more than technical training. It means nurturing the spirit of inventiveness and innovation, and giving students solid grounding in entrepreneurship. It means teaching them to understand that decisions made by engineers can have significant impacts on the paths taken by society in public policy, economics and other areas.
An essential part of that education plan is allowing students to customize their academic experience at ASU and providing them opportunities to participate in hands-on applications of engineering outside of the classroom as early as possible.
“Today it takes far more than traditional coursework to attract students and then ensure they get a worthwhile education,” Johnson says. “Students are motivated to pursue engineering because they see the degree as the stepping stone that enables them to pursue careers in important areas such as energy, health care, environmental sustainability, security and defense, and more. The engineering schools that recognize this and evolve accordingly will be the great engineering schools of the 21st century.”
At the core of Johnson’s vision is a commitment to prepare the next generations of engineers to create the innovations that will shape our world by helping to solve its most pressing problems.
To accomplish this, he sees the schools of engineering optimizing opportunities for students to complete internships in business and industry, participate in university research, network through student chapters of national and international professional organizations, and use skills learned in the classroom to perform community service projects.
“Our faculty takes a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to engineering research,” Johnson says, “and they measure success by the impact their work has on their technical fields, our region and the world. Their job is to instill these values in students.”
ASU’s engineering faculty”has demonstrated a remarkable agility in its response to the quickly changing research funding environment,” says Stephen Phillips, director of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.
“Dean Johnson’s commitment to a multidisciplinary, multiple faculty approach for both research and degree programs built on a foundation of faculty members’ strengths will enable our students and faculty to outpace their peers,” Phillips says.
The new dean’s blueprint for leading the schools is clear: The role of everyone – faculty, administrators and staff – is first and foremost as teacher, mentor, supporter and promoter of ASU’s engineering students.
“Ultimately our goal is to provide students not just the education necessary to do engineering,” Johnson says, “but the inspiration to excel at engineering in ways that will improve people’s lives.”
Other schools talk about that goal, “but we are doing it,” he adds, “with bold efforts to transform how engineering education and engineering schools are organized, in ways that respond to changing times.”
“Paul understands that this is a turning-point moment for our engineering schools,” says Kyle Squires, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. “He well appreciates that engineering must develop unique strengths to meet new challenges while preserving the foundation that enables the advances that will define our research, teaching and service. He is extremely dedicated to accelerating the impact of our schools.”
James Collofello, associate dean of Academic and Student Affairs, expects Johnson “to build on the bold initiatives” put in motion by the restructuring of the schools.
“He’s passionate about ensuring our students have one of the best educational experiences possible, and that they become successful as a result of their experience,” Collofello says.
Continuing to teach
Johnson earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Princeton University. His bachelor’s degree in the field was earned at the University of California, Davis.
His primary areas of research and teaching are environmental risk assessment and study of the movement and impacts of chemicals in the environment, as well as groundwater hydrology, aquifer management and the cleanup of contaminants from soil and groundwater.
He’s been editor-in-chief of the journal Ground Water Monitoring and Remediation since 2003.
He’s earned numerous awards from industry and government entities for research in those areas, and several leading teaching awards.
Even as he takes on the responsibilities of dean, Johnson will continue to teach, mentor students and pursue his research interests.