Just 3 Questions
- By Thomas Weaver
JUST 3 QUESTIONS
Growing up on his family’s farm in Colombia, Luis Garcia, dean of UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, helped his father troubleshoot irrigation systems in the drought-impacted region. It was an early exposure to problem-solving that would later spark a career in civil and environmental engineering and eventually lead to chairing his department at Colorado State University, the post Garcia held prior to taking on the deanship at UVM last summer. VQ recently sat down with Dean Garcia to discuss his vision for the college.
Q. What do you think an undergraduate student in engineering should know?
A. I believe that an education, at the heart of it, is learning how to learn. Any technology that you learn now is likely going to be upgraded or obsolete in five to ten years. When I came out of school, computers were very limited. We had punch cards. If I had left my knowledge at that, I would’ve been obsolete shortly after leaving school. Now a lot of what I do is computer-based modeling.
My point is that what students really get out of an engineering education are problem-solving tools—to solve problems that we don’t even yet know about. Some skills might stay current—perhaps lessons about statics and dynamics. But there are others that are going to change very fast and you need to be aware of that and upgrade your skill set. That’s why I love engineering: it’s more about getting a problem and coming at it with a creative solution. That’s the core of what we do.
Q. To what extent should engineering education be informed by the humanities?
A. I believe in students having a broad education because it helps you come up with a better solution. Sometimes if you are too technical, you miss the fact that solutions have to be holistic. I’m a firm believer in trying to expose students to more than just the technical. It’s not necessarily the most technically sophisticated solution that wins—because it’s part of a societal compromise.
Q. What do you imagine the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences looks like in five years?
A. I’m very excited about the new STEM facility that President Sullivan and Provost Rosowsky have championed and that we’re working hard to bring to reality. It will bring a huge upgrade to the infrastructure, allow us to meet unmet needs that we have right now, and better serve Vermont and the world. We’ll have new lab facilities, better teaching classrooms, improved research space for our world-class faculty.
We’re in a competitive world. We’re doing five faculty searches right now. Those individuals that we’re searching for are going to be world-class too. They have opportunities to interview other places, so we need to bring them here and provide the infrastructure that merits the quality of their credentials. And the new STEM facility will be a great asset for recruiting more and better students. The best students always have choices, like the best faculty.
With the new infrastructure in place, it’s going to be a huge boost to our reputation and help us move to the next level. We’ll also focus on maintaining and enhancing areas of strength such as our Department of Mathematics and Statistics, growing successful interdisciplinary areas such as complex systems, biomedical and environmental research, and many others. I am very excited and optimistic about the great things we can accomplish in the next five years.