Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Prospective Dean of Engineering Kenneth Ball speaks at open meeting

Engineering students, faculty, and administrators were invited yesterday to an open meeting in the Marston engineering building for an opportunity to meet the first of the four finalists for the new Dean of Engineering. Jim Kurose, executive associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and chair of the search committee for the new dean, began the meeting by introducing Kenneth Ball, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va.

A new dean is being appointed because the previous dean, Michael Malone, stepped down and is now the vice chancellor for research and engagement, according to Kurose.

Kurose chaired the search with the help of the national executive search firm Isaacson Miller. He said the search process began last September with collaboration from the Engineering department and the provost. They placed advertisements in various academic publications and reviewed applications in a series of meetings. Kurose said in March the search committee did in-person interviews with a subset of applicants, ultimately narrowing the field down to four finalists.

Kurose said the applicants were “very high in number, and the quality was absolutely outstanding.”
Kenneth Ball has worked as the L.S. Randolph Professor and department head of Mechanical Engineering for Virginia Polytechnic Institute State University for seven years. Prior to that, Ball was a Professor of mechanical engineering and thermal/fluid systems area coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin for 15 years.
Ball began by explaining his background at Virginia Tech and Texas.

Ball emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive rapport within a department, stating that, “To me, there’s nothing more important than that, if you don’t have that it can hold you back.”

Ball talked about his experience at Virginia Tech and cited a project concerning a vehicle able to be driven by blind people, describing it as “an example of an exciting thing we’re doing.”

Engineering is increasingly multidisciplinary by nature, according to Ball. He also mentioned how engineering is moving toward what he called grand challenges facing society, such as energy, sustainability and conserving water as a resource. Ball talked about bringing the study of engineering “forcibly to these problems, to have a major impact,” while describing the future of engineering as “very bright.”

When talking about what distinguishes UMass from other schools, Ball mentioned Chancellor Robert Holub’s “Framework for Excellence” plan and how, according to him, the vision shows the “elevating stature of the University; that’s what I would like to be a part of.”

Ball described his style of leadership as a “bottom-up” approach, elaborating by saying that “I try to remember what it’s like to be a student, what it’s like to be a faculty member, and as a dean what it’s like to be a department head.”
After presenting his background and delivering his outlook on how to be a leader, Ball opened up the floor for discussion. The first question came from a faculty member inquiring about Ball’s perspective on how the UMass campus is different than the campuses at which he has previously worked. Ball responded by saying that since the engineering department at UMass is not as prominent as other colleges’ departments, there is ample opportunity for growth, adding that the engineering department would need to do what he feels is consistent with the University’s agenda as a whole.

The next question pertained to what it would take for the University to be successful in engineering. Ball replied it would be more “strategic planning.”

Ball also discussed criteria for making decisions on how to get resources. He said it’s important to investigate areas with significant potential for growth. He said new strategies for energy growth is a clear example of a major opportunity for future funding. He also mentioned the importance of maintaining a balance, and not overflowing all the resources in one department.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Yahya Modarres was one among the many faculty and administration of the Engineering apartment who attended the meeting. Modarres was satisfied with the meeting and impressed with Ball. Modarres lauded Ball, stating that “his ideas are very ambitious.” Modarres said he is looking for a candidate who will develop the college and bring in more money and more faculty members.

Kurose said the expectations of the new dean are to “lead the College of Engineering and continue to build on the wonderful things happening already and move the college further forward with research, teaching, and service.”

Provost James Staros said he will be making the final decision based on all the information accumulated about the candidates and final interviews.

Staros said that “we are looking for a leadership that can get us to that next level of excellence.”

Staros commented, he was “absolutely delighted of the quality” of the candidates. He also praised the search committee for their work in attracting the candidates.

Nancy Pierce can be reached at [email protected].

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