Mo Dehghani Reflects on the Rise of Research at Stevens Institute of Technology
Outgoing Vice Provost for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Set to Take the Helm of Missouri S&T
After six years at Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Mo Dehghani is leaving his post as Vice Provost of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship on August 1 to become Chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T). In an interview, he discussed his new responsibilities as head of a university and his views about what makes Stevens Institute of Technology distinctive. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.
What are you looking forward to most in your new role?
There are new challenges, as well as new opportunities. I am excited about the fact that Missouri S&T is a true engineering and science university, with a long-standing national reputation. They have a deep reputation in the fields of engineering and physical science. I clearly remember how Missouri Rolla, as it was known during my educational years, was considered to be a crown jewel of engineering education.
They have a significant number of nationally and internationally recognized faculty, particularly in the areas of material science, computer science and the main fields of engineering. I remember thinking, when interviewing for the role, "I grew up studying this person’s work.” So I'm excited about the fact that it's a deep-domain engineering and the science campus.
There also seems to be ample opportunity to make a difference quickly. For example, their undergraduate engineering program is double the size of Stevens’, but graduate education — the professional master's program — is wide open for growth.
What accomplishments at Stevens are you most proud of?
Stevens was already a regional undergraduate engineering and science powerhouse. What the university and my team have tried to do is put research, innovation and entrepreneurship front-and-center, as well. Between the Office of Research Innovation Entrepreneurship (ORIE), the Stevens Venture Center and some other initiatives, we have taken research and innovation to a real place of prominence at Stevens. Today, no one questions the fact that research is an absolutely critical element of the Stevens education.
We established the Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) Fellowships, which focused the attention of Ph.D. students not only on the research that they do and the work they publish but also on the impact of that research. We have encouraged our I&E Fellows to begin asking, “How might the world be different, how could it change for the better because of my work?”
We also improved our approach to technology transfer. The traditional approach has always been to do research, discover something new and then try to sell it to existing companies. With the Stevens Venture Center, we now have a mechanism in place for faculty and students to create their own companies in order to transfer their technologies, and this has in fact already happened.
Finally, we saw a surge in the amount of research performed and in award dollars coming to Stevens. Everybody in ORIE the has been on board with the mission of growing research and it shows.
How has Stevens prepared you for your new role?
My new role really is a position of trust and responsibility. When thousands of young people deliver themselves heart, mind and soul to a university, administrators have an awesome responsibility. Students have delivered themselves to you for four or more of the most important years of their lives. You have to meet their commitment equally with your own and even exceed it, every moment.
Stevens is a small university with very little bureaucracy. If work needs to be done, no one in leadership says, “This is not my area.” We all have a share in governance, or at minimum an awareness of what the issues are. You come to understand really well how best practices function not only in your area, but in other areas. This was excellent preparation for my new responsibilities.
What are some of the issues and challenges that engineering and technology schools such as Missouri S&T and Stevens face in the near future?
Resources are always a challenge. Stevens is tuition-driven, and in this climate, of course, you never know what is going to happen, for example, with regard to international graduate students
The other major challenge is in the delivery of education. Online education is obviously growing at light speed. One view is that the whole concept of brick-and-mortar campuses will soon be a thing of the past. But there are huge downsides to that, which is why I don’t think it’s going to happen.
One of the huge advantages of a campus, and campus life, is the social aspect. Stevens and Missouri S&T are perfect examples of close-knit academic communities where you learn to coexist with others, you learn how everyone’s way of thinking matters and is important, you learn that your truth is not the only truth. You can’t accomplish social interaction and respect for others’ opinions in a virtual campus.
So, for technology-centric universities such as Stevens and Missouri S&T, we need to understand when it is appropriate to deliver content to students remotely — but also when it is not the best path.
What are you going to miss most about Stevens?
The people. Leaving colleagues is always the hardest part. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier now to keep in touch. But it's still bittersweet.
Stevens' trajectory is on a remarkable rise in every aspect, and leadership has done yeoman’s work in enhancing the university’s standing and reputation. I know this will continue long after I leave, and this gives me great comfort and professional pride. I very much look forward to my new role and anticipate further growth and success for Stevens as well. I will be celebrating this great institution’s success stories along with all of my Stevens colleagues from wherever I might be at the time.