A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

New Engineering Dean Brings Experience To School, Campus

September 8, 2015

Dean Mark MatsumotoNew School of Engineering Dean Mark Matsumoto is not new to UC Merced. In fact, he’s not even new as the engineering dean, having served in the interim between founding Dean Jeff Wright and Dean Daniel Hirleman.

Matsumoto has a “long-standing interest in UC Merced,” starting when he served on the UC system’s Academic Senate task force for developing the campus.

He has been part of developing another UC engineering school, too, so he understands the challenges and opportunities that face the school. His experiences and insights could be invaluable to the growing School of Engineering (SoE).

Another important reason why he chose to come back to UC Merced from UC Riverside is “my deep respect for the UC system and what it offers to our students.”

Matsumoto himself is a first-generation college-goer who attended UC schools for his undergraduate and graduate studies. Plus, he has been a faculty member within the UC for more than 20 years.

“I have deep regard for what a UC education can bring. UC schools represent significant opportunities for first-in-family college-goers, many of whom attend or will attend UC Merced,” he said.

Dean Matsumoto agreed to answer some questions for Panorama:

What is your vision for the School of Engineering?

My vision for the School of Engineering is that it will continue its upward trajectory in terms of the research contributions it makes, the quality of education it provides and the impact it is having on the regional community. We want to make the School of Engineering a source of pride for this region. Reputationally, we want to be on equal footing with the top engineering schools in the country, but further known as a school that provides significant opportunities to one of the most — if not the most — diverse students populations at a research university.

What do you plan to do to make that vision a reality?

The strength of any university is based on a quality faculty. One of my top goals will be to continue to add outstanding faculty members who have an entrepreneurial yearning to develop strong programs and will work collectively to achieve common goals and objectives. Thus, I hope to create an environment that is conducive to innovation and collaboration, not only within the SoE faculty, but with the SoE staff and other members of the UC Merced community.

What’s new/different since you were last here?

There are several new faculty members in SoE from the last time I was here, as well as in the upper administration. Plus, several of the engineering programs have become ABET-accredited. There are also a number of new buildings on campus with many more students. 

What do you see as opportunities and challenges for the school?

The opportunities are limitless for the school. It’s primarily a matter of priorities. Which types of new programs should be developed? What types of research enterprises do we wish to focus upon? How can we reach out to bring more students into STEM fields?

There are many great ideas out there. It’s a matter of finding ones that will benefit our customers the most based on the talents, expertise and experience of our faculty members.

The primary challenges facing SoE are similar to those across campus. We have increasing enrollment with limited resources, particularly space and faculty. The average undergraduate engineering student-to-faculty ratio in the UC system is about 23:1. At UC Merced, that ratio is 33:1. In contrast, the average graduate student engineering student-to-faculty ratio across the UC is about 7.5:1. At UC Merced, that ratio is 3.3:1.

By hiring more faculty members, we can lower the undergraduate ratio, but that will also require greater emphasis on increasing graduate student enrollment and having the research enterprise that supports them. Adding more faculty members and the concomitant research programs requires more space.

What centers or institutes would you like to see developed?

I hope to work with the SoE faculty to organize centers and interests that match well with advancing the regional economy and their expertise. One area that is receiving attention in California, of course, is the drought. However, these concerns extend well beyond California. One of the major considerations in addressing the current situation is the water-energy-food nexus. How can society manage water resources effectively to meet the needs of all people? This is not just a question for engineers, but for people associated with many other disciplines including policy, agriculture, political science, climatology, sociology, psychology, economics, etc. We need to work collaboratively to develop potential solutions to this quickly emerging global issue.

Several other issues come to mind for potential research thrusts, such as health care, cybersecurity, data management/analysis and physical security (e.g., terrorism), and there are many more.

What kind of collaborations would you like to see?

Besides collaborations within SoE and with the other schools at UC Merced, I would like to see greater collaboration with industry and the local community, potentially working with other four-year universities in the region to not only increase the college-going rate, but also to increase interest in STEM fields.

Do you plan to keep researching while dean? If so, what kind of research do you plan to do?

Yes, I do plan to keep active in research. My research interests lie in the processes of engineering to modify water and soil quality, particularly in two areas: water and soil quality that has been compromised by hazardous waste, and water reuse applications.

What are your top priorities for your first semester?

My priorities will be to get to know the strengths of our faculty members and to find out what dreams they have and learn what we can do together. I’m sure a lot of issues will come up, but my goal is to facilitate excellence among the faculty and staff, and to try to develop strategic directions for the school that I hope that the faculty can embrace.