Texas Tech University

High Hopes for Whitacre College of Engineering

Allen Ramsey

September 2, 2022

Stephen Bayne is stepping into the role of acting dean and looks to put the college on a path to even greater success.

Texas Tech University's Centennial year is off to a great start. 

The university has kicked off its Centennial, held its first Day of Giving and seen the Goin' Band booked for the 2023 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

On top of that, Texas Tech has landed a prestigious Engineering Research Center (ERC), the top award given by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

The Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production (CASFER) pairs Texas Tech with industry leaders and some of the top institutions of higher education in the nation. And it gives the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering a leading role in developing world-altering technology. 

Great successes inherently bring new challenges, and the College of Engineering is no exception. 

As the fall semester got underway the college named a new acting dean in former Electrical & Computer Engineering Chair Stephen Bayne and, with Chemical Engineering Chair Gerri Botte leading CASFER as center director, had two other leadership positions to fill. 

Despite the challenges, Bayne is confident the outlook is bright for the College of Engineering. In an interview conducted just days after being named acting dean, Bayne laid out his vision for this transformational time. 

What's your plan for dealing with the semester as we build into these monumental moments for the college and the university?            

First, I need to get an assessment of the college to see where we are. I had some of the information because I was a chair, but I need to see the bigger picture assessment for the college and get a better understanding of where our strengths and our weaknesses are. Clearly, we'll have to make a plan to hire department chairs or associate chairs in some positions, but we'll focus on putting students first and continuing to be research focused.

You have to remember, I've only been in this position for a few days, but I know we want to be a big part of the Centennial celebrations – working with the university, the provost and the president to try to really have the college at the forefront of that.

I want to start some student organizations. I'd like to add a veteran student organization and an LBGTQIA student organization in engineering. I want to be accessible to the faculty, the staff and the students. Dean Al Sacco Jr. has left us in a good position, so I want to take it to the next level as acting dean.

One of the big things that I need to look at is we have the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) coming up in the next year. That's a big thing for us. I want to make sure we are on track for that and that it's moving forward.

In some departments, we had faculty get early retirement packages, so those departments have lost some faculty. We need to do some smart recruiting to get those positions filled with top people in those areas.

Those are some of the areas that I'm looking to focus on.

You brought the National Consortium of Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering (GEM) to Texas Tech and have really focused on making sure underrepresented demographics are getting a better representation within our university and within the college. What do you see as the best ways to recruit with that in mind?

To recruit underrepresented populations, or to recruit any student, we have to have a good reputation, right? We have to be top in research. We have to be top in teaching. And our students have to go out and get great jobs. If we do that, we're going to attract a lot of students.

But the question is, how do we attract minority students? Our population of Hispanic and African American students is climbing. Where we haven't seen the same kind of growth is in recruiting female students. We still face challenges in those other minority areas, but in electrical and computer engineering we haven't been able to have significant increase in the number of female students here. So, we need to do more outreach.

I'm a minority. I came to Texas Tech, I received my bachelor's, master's and doctorate at Texas Tech. I had really good undergraduate professors in electrical and computer engineering and some of the professors are still here.

Let me tell you a quick story.

I was in the military and when I got out, I came here. I was working a lot at K-Mart and it was a struggle at times. Going into my first calculus test I went to the library to study, and I'm looking at my scratch paper, and low and behold, there are two pages of the exam stuck between my stack of papers.

I freaked out: “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? I'll fail.”

I decided that I would go tell the professor, even though I was thinking he was probably going to accuse me of cheating. So, I went to the professor, I knocked on his door, and I said, “Look, this was stuck in between here.”

He took it back and it impressed me so much. He never questioned me; he never accused me of anything. When I deal with students, I remember that story all the time. It was very impactful.

But getting back to what we can do, we have to reach out. I brought the GEM program to the university, and I took it to Dean Sacco. He said, ‘Oh, I know that program. I had GEM scholars at my last university.' He supported it 150%. The program has now expanded outside of engineering. We just got a GEM fellow in math, and the Graduate School is supporting the program with their match on it.

So, we know Texas Tech is ready to support minorities, we just have to get the word out and let minority students know this is a good place for them. I'm a minority and I'm a product of Texas Tech. I was never hindered. I was actually helped. I was always given a hand to help me. We just have to let them know. We have to recruit more actively.

One thing we've done for the last 12 years is a high school program that brought more than 50 students here, including a substantial number of female students. We go to the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders and recruit there. We go and give presentations. We need to continue to do that. 

We need the type of visibility that gets students to come here. And the only way we're going to do that is to build relationships with teachers. One of the things I'd like to do is to have teachers come here and have a teacher's day where they come and tour the facilities and get an understanding of what Texas Tech has to offer.  

And when we do get those students here, we have to treat everybody the same way. If they do well, you give them a pat on the shoulder. If they mess it up, you tell them they're messing up. That's the way I see it.

I think minorities don't want to be treated any differently, they just want the opportunity. Texas Tech gives us as minorities the opportunity. I can say I know that for a fact because I lived it.

I'm all about building relationships. If we get the students here and show them that Texas Tech is a great place for minorities, it's a great place for all students.

From Here, It's Possible.

I really believe in that statement, and if we show that we will get the students.

What do you see as the future of engineering, and why is Texas Tech primed to be at the forefront of it?

The future of engineering is clearly changing. There are self-driving cars, there is virtual reality for surgeries and design – things like that. Some things stay the same, the basic, fundamental engineering, but there are always new areas. That's why we do research.

For example, people see the self-driving car, but what they don't understand is researchers spent years in a lab just working on the radar. So, it comes in parts. Some of the research that I've done, it was 15 years spent to get some carbide device that can block more voltage. But that allows it to go into other applications. We stand on the shoulders of other people and on the shoulders of technology, and it keeps going and going and going.

I think Texas Tech is poised to be a leader in engineering with the facilities and faculty we have available. We have faculty that are doing great research.

CASFER is a great example. What professor Botte brought here is a great accomplishment for Texas Tech and for the college. We've never had an ERC. Professors like that, with the energy and vision to want to do great things is where I think our strength lies.

It shows that with the support of the President's Office and the vice presidents, when we all work together, we can do great things. And I don't just mean with engineering. I want to see collaborative work with the Health Sciences Center, I want to see collaborative work with industry partners, with our communications teams. If we work collaboratively moving forward it is really going to grow the College of Engineering.

Nobody works just on just one thing anymore, right? You have to be collaborative. You've got to look at it in a collaborative way. And how do we do that going forward? From working with the School of Law to working with Health Sciences Center, or working with businesses so we have students that are well rounded, these things are key for us.

Our top priority will always be training students and finding the right ways to train them on new technology. But that's different from research. If we're doing new things with research, we have to bring that back to the classroom as well.

Artificial intelligence is a good example. That was never around when I was a student, and now everybody's doing research in artificial intelligence. And now we have classes in artificial intelligence. We have faculty who can change and adjust the way they're teaching and doing research to keep us moving forward. And with support from the university, I think we're poised to really go to the next level.

One of my big goals is to move the needle on our rankings. It's a hard thing to do. It's like trying to turn a big ship around. But that's one focus. I want to get that into the minds of the faculty, staff and students. Everything we do, let's try to move up in the rankings and grow.

We need to increase the amount of funding we're bringing in. Clearly, we're doing well. We can do even better. Funding per faculty needs to be increased.

We will continue to publish, and we have to publish in top-tier publications to get the type of visibility we need. Then, on top of that, we have to market. If we don'' market what we've done, it's not going to work. We have top researchers and teachers in our college, but we have to get it out there and market it the right way and let people know what we're doing.

And the last thing is, we have to focus nationally and internationally. We're doing well within our West Texas markets, but we've got to figure out how to show out on the national and international levels. CASFER is an example where Texas Tech is working with other top schools and with industry partners on a global issue, but we need to continue to build those relationships so we can be front and center of worldwide solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing humanity.