Sharon Wood

Photo Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Sharon Wood, the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, was elected president of the American Concrete Institute last week.

ACI is a nonprofit company dedicated to spreading educational resources about concrete and providing expertise for construction projects. Wood said she decided to run for president because the position provides the opportunity to influence the future of the entire institute.

“My primary objectives are to increase the value of ACI membership and define the relevance of ACI within a competitive, global concrete community,” Wood said.

Wood said she initially joined ACI because the organization aligned most closely with her research interests. 

Wood has previously held multiple leadership roles within ACI, including chair of the Technical Activities Committee and International Advisory Committee. Wood said she believes her past positions in ACI have prepared her for the president position.

“Serving as a technical committee chair and guiding the consensus process in developing technical documents taught me to listen to people who did not share my opinion and to compromise,” Wood said. “Listening and compromising are essential qualities for serving as president.

Although her presidency will prove to be demanding, Wood will retain her position as the dean of the engineering school.

“Balancing the roles of dean and president will certainly be a challenge,” Wood said. “I will schedule my international travel during the summer or between semesters, and I may not be able to accept all the invitations that I receive.”

Tedmund Chua, public health junior and president of the Gamma Beta fraternity chapter at UT, said he believes presidents need to promote a combination of stability and change in order to be effective. 

“An effective president at any level, whether it be for a club or an entire university, has a certain drive and motivation to change the organization for the better,” Chua said. “An effective president also realizes that changing certain systems just for the sake of change will usually have negative consequences.”

The Cockrell School of Engineering aims to achieve gender balance in classrooms and began an initiative in January to increase the number of women entering the program.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

As the Cockrell School of Engineering aims to achieve gender balance in its classrooms, some engineering women still feel outnumbered.

According to statistics from the Women in Engineering Program, or WEP, the gap is largest in the electrical, aerospace and mechanical engineering departments, where, this fall, 15.0, 15.4 and 18.8 percent of undergraduate students are women, respectively. 

“Those departments are really focused on trying to improve that gap because, if I look at biomedical engineering, it’s over 40 percent women, but mechanical and electrical are under 20 percent,” Cockrell School dean Sharon Wood said. “So, if your two biggest departments are the ones with the smallest ratios, that’s where the efforts are being concentrated.” 

While there is a large number of women in biomedical engineering senior Samantha Collins’ biomedical engineering courses — where 44.9 percent of undergraduate enrollees are female — courses she has taken in electrical engineering have been male-dominated.

“There were definitely some girls in there, but it wasn’t as well-distributed as the BME classes,” Collins said. 

Civil engineering senior Kirstin Rose said she was one of two girls in a mechanical engineering design course she took her freshman year. She said her civil engineering courses tend to be more gender balanced, but there are still more male students.

According to WEP, 38.3 percent of the undergraduate civil engineering students are women. 

To combat the gender imbalances in mechanical engineering, the Cockrell School began an initiative in January to increase the number of women entering the program to 35 percent in five years. 

WEP has also developed programs such as “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” which gives young girls the opportunity to come to the UT campus to meet professors and learn about engineering.

WEP director Tricia Berry said the program has also designed initiatives to reach out to female high school students admitted into the engineering college.  

“At the Cockrell-school level we also phone call, email and meet female prospective students and admitted students all in an effort to recruit them to come,” Berry said in an email. 

According to Berry, since WEP started in 1992, the percentage of women in the Cockrell School has grown from 16 to 25 percent. 

“[The growth] is from the fact that there has been these outreach activities over a long period of time — over 15 years of trying to get kids excited and thinking of engineering as an opportunity,” Wood said. 

Wood said the growth in the number of women studying engineering could also be attributed to the most recent financial crisis, since most people who get out of college today don’t want to worry about finding a good job along with a burdening debt. 

“Engineering gives that stability in jobs, and plus there was all that press about how many more engineers we’re going to need as we move forward,” Wood said.

Photo Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Sharon Wood took over as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering on Sept. 1. Starting October 2013, she had served as interim dean after current Provost Gregory Fenves’ promotion. The Daily Texan editorial board sat down with her recently in the first of a number of interviews with the University’s 18 school and college deans to sound her out on a number of issues of concern to students. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Texan: What would you say your main goals are for Cockrell as you get started with this new position?

Sharon Wood: We have a lot of traditional classes now where it’s lecture-based, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the most effective in trying to engage students in engineering. We want to move to having more project-based classes and hands-on learning opportunities. The trouble is right now, we’re constrained very much by our facilities. So when the EERC [Engineering Education and Research Center] opens, we will be able to have new labs that the students will be able to use for this ... That’s the number one goal, is really to try to enhance the educational experience for the undergrads.

DT: And how about for graduate students?

Wood: The north tower is going to be focused on interdisciplinary research, and right now, if you have an interdisciplinary team of faculty, we’re so tight on space. It’s hard to get all the grad students together. They’re in their departments, but they’re doing interdisciplinary research, so they don’t have as many interactions as they really should. 

DT: Could you tell us a little bit more about the importance of the EERC?

Wood: The EERC is really essential for us right now because we’re basically beyond capacity of all of our facilities. We had ENS, which they’re going to start tearing down in a couple months, where we had essentially large empty spaces — almost an entire floor — because we couldn’t provide the power for it ... We were trying to do cutting edge research in a building that just couldn’t accommodate it.

DT: It’s very commonly known that the number of women in science majors is a lot lower than men, so what are you doing to help close that gap?

Wood: Both last year and this year, we have an all-time record high of female undergraduate students in the Cockrell school, and the percentage of female students is a record high ... Our Women in Engineering Program, which has been around for about 25 years, has been incredibly successful in reaching out to K-12 students, showing them that engineering is an exciting career opportunity ... Sometimes you can attract women to come into engineering, but then they get discouraged, so [Women in Engineering runs] ... all kinds of programs to help women, support women throughout their entire time here, so that they build a community ... The school for many years has been really aggressive in trying to find female faculty members, because if you’re a young women coming into the school, and all the role models are male, you start questioning, “Well, should I be here?” but we are in some departments, we’re up over 20 percent female faculty.

DT: So switching gears a little bit, what sort of collaboration do you hope to see between Cockrell and the new medical school?

Wood: We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to work with the Dell Medical School ... They’re just in the process of selecting department chairs right now ... They have to have kind of a sense of who will be hired before they can really start making commitments on research. But we do have opportunities for joint hires and that sort of thing, which I think will help build that synergy with the med school.

DT: What sorts of opportunities are available to engineering undergraduates who want to do research?

Wood: The model across campus is what Natural Sciences does. They have that Freshman Research Initiative program. We don’t have an organized program like that, but we do have a large percent of our students who are engaged in research in the laboratories ... The reason why research is exciting is because the solution isn’t known, and so the attempts you make and the path you take to get to a solution is almost as important as coming up with a solution itself.

DT: The whole state is pushing four-year graduation rates a lot. What do y’all do particularly in your college, because engineering is a very difficult major?

Wood: It is a difficult major, and I think the culture was, “Oh, if I finish in five years or six years, it’s not that big a deal.” So we’ve really tried to focus on four-year graduations ... We’ve taken a look at the courses where we have the highest number of students who get lower than a C ... We’re putting extra resources into those... They were all outstanding students in high school, and they hit the first roadblock, and they think, “Oh, maybe engineering isn’t for me.” We’re trying to show them that, “No, if you work a little harder, you can probably get through that, and you’re going to be a great engineer.”

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Cockrell School of Engineering received a $35 million donation from UT alumnus T.W. “Tom” Whaley Jr., the University announced Thursday.

 Whaley, who died in 2013, received his doctorate in electrical engineering from the Cockrell School in 1968. According to the school, his donation will provide $1.6 million in annual merit scholarships for high school students in Texas to study engineering at Cockrell.

“It’s phenomenal,” Cockrell school dean Sharon Wood said. “It was a total surprise when we got the gift, and it’s going to have a huge impact on our students.”

As the largest endowed scholarship the University has ever received to date, Wood said the gift is divided into two parts – the Cockrell school received the first $20 million during the spring semester and will receive the remaining $15 million by the end of 2015.

In addition, Whaley also gave the University 700 mineral rights across 10 states, which the school expects will significantly contribute to the University’s annual income. The Cockrell school plans to use some of the additional income to fund more fellowships for both graduate students and undergraduates, Wood said.

“It’s going to allow us to attract the best students from across the state of Texas to come to the Cockrell school, and we’re really excited about that,” Wood said.

For the 2014-15 academic year, the endowment allows 34 incoming freshmen to study engineering across the seven departments of Cockrell. The school also plans to design multi-year scholarships for future freshmen, Wood said.

John Jennings, incoming mechanical engineering freshman, said he is thankful Whaley’s scholarship will help him get through college.

“I’m really happy I don’t have to worry about finances,” Jennings said.

David Anderson, Whaley’s attorney and executor of his estate, could not be reached for comment.

Sharon Wood, Cockrell School of Engineering interim dean, will become the permanent dean of the engineering school on September 1. Photo courtesy of UT Austin/ Marsha Miller. 

 Sharon Wood, Cockrell School of Engineering interim dean, will stay on as the school’s next dean, the University announced Friday.

After serving as chair of the school’s department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, Wood became interim dean in October 2013. She replaced Gregory Fenves, who left the position in August 2013 to become the University’s executive vice president and provost.

According to the University, a national search was conducted for the position. Wood, who is the school’s first female dean, will officially become dean on Sept. 1.

Wood’s appointment comes as the school is scheduled to begin construction on the Engineering Education and Research Center. Scheduled to open in August 2017, the $310 million building will replace the school’s Engineering-Science Building. According to the University, the new building will allow for more project-based learning and interdisciplinary teaching and research.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a UT alum, and his wife Renda Tillerson donated $5 million to help fund the Cockrell School of Engineering’s new research center, which will centralize engineering student services and include new research laboratories.

The center is part of a $310 million project to replace the current Engineering-Science Building on San Jacinto Street with a new research center. The demolition is scheduled to begin in September, and the center is scheduled to open in August 2017. 

Cockrell school interim dean Sharon Wood said she believes having alumni who are willing to donate to better the education of future students shows the value of the education they received.

“It’s really inspiring to know that these alumni that are so successful … have chosen to invest in us,” Wood said.

John Ekerdt, associate dean of the engineering school, said he believes alumni understand how use their engineering degrees to become successful — allowing them to contribute to future students’ success.

“These alumni are making investments in the students of today and of the future so they can make contributions in their own careers,” Ekerdt said.

According to Ekerdt, the new research facility will allow for expanded learning, focusing on collaboration between students.

“This building is designed with a mission of new education, collaborative spaces and new forms of learning,” Ekerdt said. “It will be a site for the discovery of new knowledge.”

According to Wood, projects such as the research center would not be possible without generosity from alumni.

“We depend on our alumni to help us move forward, especially in these difficult financial times,” Wood said. “It would definitely not be possible without their generosity.”

Witnessing successful alumni give back to the school allows students to see their own abilities, according to Wood.

“It helps students understand and see the potential that they have as they grow and their careers continue,” Wood said.

Petroleum engineering sophomore Nick Lavigne said alumni like the Tillersons make him proud to be a part of the engineering school.

“It’s really cool to see successful engineers come out of UT,” Lavigne said. “I can say I’m getting the same education as some of the most successful people in the country.”

Sharon Wood, a structural engineer and chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, has been appointed interim dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

Wood will fill the vacancy left by Gregory Fenves, who was announced as the University’s new executive vice president and provost last month.

Wood, who is the school’s first female dean and was the first female department chair in the Cockrell School, said she is excited about the challenges the position will present — particularly the work she will do to secure funding for the University’s planned Engineering Education and Research Center. The building did not receive a tuition revenue bond in the most recent legislative session.

“It’s a really exciting time at the school,” Wood said. “We will need to raise the funds to move forward with our new building … but I’ve been involved from the beginning and I’m really looking forward to that challenge.” 

Though Wood said she is excited to begin the process, she said accepting the offered position was not an easy decision.

“It actually took me a couple of days to decide [to become the interim dean],” Wood said. “Professionally, there are many benefits, but I was going to teach a class this semester, and I’m going to have to give that up. I’ll also have to cut back on my research for the year.”

Wood said accepting the position ultimately seemed like the best choice.

“I just had to weigh factors,” she said.

In a statement, UT’s outgoing Executive Vice President and Provost Steven Leslie, said he is confident in Wood’s ability to lead the School of Engineering. 

“The Cockrell School of Engineering will be in the hands of a distinguished and skillful leader as Sharon Wood assumes her responsibilities as interim dean,” Leslie said in the statement. “She has been an integral part of the Cockrell leadership team and has the research and administrative acumen to continue to propel the school in developing engineering leaders for tomorrow.”

Wood said she hopes her visibility as a female dean will help inspire new female engineering students.

“It’s important for women to have role models,” Wood said. “It’s important to see women as faculty members, department chairs and in the administration.”

Wood, a fourth-generation civil engineer, said her role models were her family members. 

“I decided I wanted to be a civil engineer when I was about eight years old,” Wood said. “My dad took me out to a construction site.”

Professors Joseph Beaman Jr. and Sharon Wood were inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in recognition of their achievements in the engineering world.

Beaman received an undergraduate education at UT and works on technology for 3-D printing and manufacturing at the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Wood, chairwoman of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, is the first woman elected to the academy in the area of structural engineering. 

The National Academy of Engineering has only 2,461 members and foreign associates, 80 of which were inducted this year, said Maria Arrellaga, director of communications and public affairs at the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

“Being inducted into the NAE is something that is the result of years and years of research,” Arrellaga said. “It’s the award of all awards, the recognition of all recognition.”

Wood was elected for her designs for reinforced concrete structures, which can withstand more severe earthquakes and are based on field research in Chile, Turkey and California after earthquakes, as well as for her work installing seismic instruments in earthquake prone areas, according to the academy’s website.

Wood said she and colleagues studied collapses of parking garages in California after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, and she recently worked on committees to implement a national plan for installing seismic instruments in buildings.

“One of the problems when you go out and look at an earthquake is you don’t know how the ground moved in that location or how the building moved,” Wood said. “The idea is you have instrumented buildings in regions of high seismic risk. Eventually there are going to be earthquakes in the region of those buildings and you’re going to get real seismic data.”

Beaman was elected for his role in developing technologies that can more cheaply manufacture parts on demand. His main contributions were with his work on solid freeform fabrication and selective laser sintering.

Beaman said the technology for selective laser sintering, which allows manufacturers to print parts on demand, is the result of his cooperation with former UT graduate student Carl Deckard that started in 1986.

“We wanted to be able to sit at the desk [in front of a 3-D modeling program] and print a hard copy,” Beaman said. “It costs a lot of money to make a mold. With this technology, you make it overnight.”

Beaman said according to one study the technology is usually cheaper than standard manufacturing processes when less than 10,000 parts are being produced.

“[Beaman has] been an integral part of UT,” said Jayathi Murthy, chairwoman of the mechanical engineering department. “I think it’s a shining example of how you translate high-level university research into real-world work.”