New Dean, Brighter Future?

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Such a happy dean. /source: Emily Wright

Such a happy dean. /source: Emily Wright

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Article: Robyn Tocker – A&C Editor

Will Newly Minted Dean Esam Hussein Shape up the Faculty of Engineering?

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is one of the University of Regina’s most prominent faculties, but even it has some moments that are cringe-worthy. Back in April of this year, CBC wrote an article discussing how the past Dean of Engineering, Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul, overspent his research budget and because of this, a donor fund was drained.

“The document reveals the overspending took place over a number of years, and the trust account — which was an endowment, or gift, to the U of R — was drained to pay for the overspending,” according to Geoff Leo, author of the CBC article.

Also according to CBC, the Faculty of Engineering has been overspending their budget for years and by Apr. 19 of 2012, almost every dollar in the fund was gone.

Tontiwachwuthikul is no longer the Dean of Engineering, and while some suspect this occurred because of the mismanagement of funds, in truth his term as Dean was complete and the need for a new Dean would have occurred even without the scandal. The current Dean, Esam Hussein, has been acknowledged by fellow staff members as a qualified man to take over the position.

“My impression is that he will be a very successful Dean during his time with the faculty.  He is a very smart man, a good listener and a good leader.  He appears to have all the qualities that one would hope a Dean would have to lead the faculty towards continued success in the future,” said Professor Craig Gelowitz, an Assistant Professor of Software Systems Engineering.

“He is an exceptional addition to our Faculty’s leadership team whose focus for his first year in the position include three themes: collegiality, integrity, and safety . . . We will be working together to enhance relationships, expand research, and support high quality teaching. He is making excellent connections in the local community and working with university, government, and industrial partners to support the high quality teaching and research that we do,” said Professor Dena McMartin.

From a student’s position, Hussein is also seen as a quality leader who will work well with the Engineering Students’ Society. Vice-President Brad Lulik, had this to say: “Dean Hussein is a student oriented leader and this is evident through his first few months of leadership . . . [The University of New Brunswick] assured us that Dean Hussein is willing to work with the students to assure that we receive the education that we have come to expect.”

Despite the change of Deans going over smoothly, it is difficult to forget a scandal, whether it has been blown out of proportion or not. When asking Dean Hussein about the past Dean’s actions, he couldn’t say much since he is new to the school and did not know all that occurred prior to his arrival from New Brunswick.

“[The school’s] ambition means the outgoing Dean must have done something right. It is now a challenge for me to maintain that,” said Hussein.

Professor Gelowitz made a comment about how the donor fund, from his understanding, “no longer even existed as a company,” and, “the account and its funds that sat dormant for over 15 years” never affected his ability to do his job.

Professor McMartin offered an explanation of what exactly happened with the donor fund that caused such a scandal explaing that  “the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science conducts expensive and internationally recognized research into petroleum engineering, with a lot of focus on carbon capture and sequestration (capturing carbon dioxide and securing it in underground rock, petroleum, and water formations). That group of researchers was working on a new funding arrangement with the petroleum industry and governments that did not materialize. Therefore, at that time the expenses were continuing but the money was not.”

From there, The Wascana Energy donation was provided to the Faculty in the late 1990s and was intended to support petroleum engineering research and, if more funding was provided, to fund a chair position in petroleum engineering research.

“That extra funding from Wascana Energy did not materialize and so the $1M donation remained unused for about a decade. The contract with Wascana Energy (who, of course did not exist anymore) permitted legal use of the funds for supporting research—which is how it was used. The funds weren’t used for the primary, initial intent. The funds were used in a legally permissible way to support petroleum engineering research.”

“I can’t really comment on that much because I wasn’t really here,” said Hussein. “My understanding is that this was done with permission from the donor . . . When you are successful problems will happen. We have to deal with them. I would rather deal with that than an idle faculty that isn’t active. The situation could have been handled differently, but it was handled. Decisions were made and we will deal with them. We are a successful faculty who did no financial wrongdoing. Things were followed rightly,” Hussein said.

The Faculty of Engineering may have been shaken by the recent scandal, but it will continue to focus on educating its students.

“My message is very straightforward. I want to empower the students to take ownership of their own education and learning. I also want to empower the faculty to do their best. It is my job as the Dean to facilitate researchers, students and administrative staff to reach their potential. The Dean is one individual. Success comes from the work of many and I want to continue to inspire and motivate them as well as deal with problems as they arise,” said Hussein.

As a professor, McMartin is focused on the programs that are in high demand for her students.

“The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is experiencing very high demand from students and employers right now. In particular, our Petroleum Systems Engineering program is over capacity, as is the Environmental Systems Engineering program. In the current Saskatchewan economy, there are many very good jobs for engineers and we’re doing our best to graduate highly qualified people for the workforce.”

Lulik believes there is always room for improvement and has no doubt Dean Hussein will provide that during his term. “We can’t be afraid of change . . . I would like to see a different style and perhaps a more personable style in the approach to student relations.”

In addition to that, Lulik raised concerns about faculty space.

“It is evident that our current facility is getting tighter when it comes to labs, offices, and classrooms. I know that a new facility has been in the early planning stages for years, but I would like to see some major progress in the initiative over Dean Hussein’s term.”

With the spotlight on Engineering, it makes us wonder what happened to Tontiwachwuthikul. McMartin explained how he is still at the U of R, and still teaching. Despite the scandal, he did prove to enhance the school in some areas.

“During his time as our Dean, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science increased the number of nationally accredited engineering programs that we offer, enhanced our research profile and funding, and nearly doubled our student enrolments,” said McMartin.

The School of Engineering has made it clear they are moving forward with a positive outlook and with their new Dean to guide them, students are hoping to see a bright five years with Hussein.

 

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