Jerome Lynch hopes to improve the student experience for engineers through prioritizing diversity initiatives and integrating engineering into various other disciplines.
Lynch was named the Vinik dean of the Pratt School of Engineering earlier this month. He’ll start his position at Duke on Jan. 1, but until then, he’ll continue his role at the University of Michigan as the Donald Malloure department chair of civil and environmental engineering.
Lynch said that he values how Pratt students' education is integrated into the Duke liberal arts curriculum because of the way they shape engineers’ problem-solving skills.
“It's a really outstanding way to prepare future thought leaders of their discipline—in this case engineers—because the type of problems that engineers are tackling today at this juncture of the 21st century are so big, so complex, that technology is just one part of the solution set,” he said.
“Whether we’re talking about climate change, social equity questions in our society, urbanization, quality of life, improvements in medicine—these are problems that really need a technological solution in tandem with a political solution, a financial solution,” Lynch continued.
Lynch plans to continue emphasizing Pratt's strong academic programs, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and environmental engineering. He also hopes to strengthen the links between Pratt and other parts of campus and expand Pratt initiatives so that the school plays a larger role in the policy domain.
“There’s an increasing awareness in the technical community about the importance of the policy dimension,” he said.
While Pratt is currently addressing a wide range of technological disciplines, there is one Lynch intends to keep prioritizing: climate change.
“Climate change I think is the most urgent of all the problems we’re currently tackling,” he explained. “Even though the technological solutions may exist, they’re not readily adopted or adopted at scale to really mitigate some of the detrimental aspects of climate change that we’re now beginning to see.”
Lynch also expressed a “firm commitment” to improving diversity initiatives in Pratt. He believes that engineering, like any professional track, benefits from diversity “because it is so essential to coming up with these innovative solutions.”
But he hopes to go beyond just diversifying the faculty and staff makeup.
“When I arrive in January, I will be looking at programming to drive diversification of our faculty and our staff and our students but also programming that’s very specific to reinforcing a highly inclusive culture and environment in the Pratt School,” Lynch said.
Upon enrollment, 37% of Pratt students are female—the national average for engineering schools is 24%. 51% of all Duke undergraduate students are female.
Lynch’s predecessor, Ravi Bellamkonda, left Duke to start a new position at Emory University in July. Bellamkonda instituted the first-year design program to increase retention of first-year engineering students, a program that Lynch said initially drew him to Duke.
“If a student wants to be in Pratt and wants to be an engineer, we want to support that student there. We want to support that student and their interests and their aspirations. Given any form of attrition, we would want to reverse that,” Lynch said.
“Really just thinking about the experiences of the students—not just their academic experiences, but some of the more social dimensions that they may have—both in the classroom but also in extracurriculars, we definitely want those experiences to reaffirm their interest in engineering.”
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Paige Carlisle is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for The Chronicle.