Dr. Richard Sweigard, who took the helm on June 1 as the new dean of the Herff College of Engineering at the University of Memphis, believes strongly in the importance and value of engineering education.
“I think any college of engineering that is doing a good job will have a positive impact on the quality of life for the entire region, through the development of new technologies, the potential jobs created from those technologies, and also the students we educate and the opportunities created for them,” he said. “Engineers have a tremendous opportunity to impact the state and the region for good. We make life safer and make the environment cleaner through the technologies we develop.”
Sweigard hopes to see more new technologies developed through research conducted at the university.
“I believe to increase the amount and quality of research, we need to be able to bring in new faculty, and to do that we really have to grow the college through additional enrollment and additional funding, both private and state,” he said.
Sweigard spent the past 25 years in various positions at the University of Kentucky, most recently serving as the associate dean of engineering for administration and academic affairs since 2007. He also worked as an associate professor or professor there since 1988 and served as chair of the Department of Mining Engineering for 14 years.
For the past five or six years, one of his primary areas of focus was enrollment management in the UK College of Engineering.
“Before I became associate dean at Kentucky, there had been a decline in enrollment over a 10- to 12-year period of time,” Sweigard said. “With a recruiting plan and a merit scholarship program that we put in place, we were able to increase the undergraduate enrollment in the College of Engineering by more than 60 percent over a five-year span.”
He plans to implement some of the same scholarship and recruiting programs at the U of M that proved successful at Kentucky.
“I want to see this college grow, and it starts with undergraduate enrollment. That will be the first priority that I focus on,” Sweigard said.
Enrollment at Herff College of Engineering has grown gradually over the past several years, with last fall semester’s total enrollment hitting 1,100 students (950 undergraduates and 150 graduate students). The college employs 45 full-time faculty members.
Six undergraduate degrees with accompanying master’s degrees are offered in five departments: biomedical engineering, civil engineering, electrical/computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and engineering technology.
Sweigard is spending time in only his second week on the job getting acquainted with the school’s summer bridge programs, which are geared toward middle and high school students to create interest in engineering technology. When he first examined the position available in Memphis, he immediately saw it as a good fit.
“It seemed like a college with a great history and a lot of opportunity for growth,” said Sweigard, a native of Dover, Pa.
Still, the decision to leave Kentucky was not easy.
“It was difficult simply because I had put down roots in the region,” said Sweigard, who along with his wife of nearly 40 years, Nena, moved away from their two married daughters and grandchildren. “Personally it was difficult to leave behind family ties. But it is only a six-hour drive from here, so I’m sure my wife and I will be making that trip pretty frequently to spend time with our kids and grandkids.”
Sweigard succeeded interim dean Dr. Eugene Eckstein at Herff College, as well as former dean Dr. Richard Warder, who retired last summer.
Prior to working at Kentucky, Sweigard also taught at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Pennsylvania State University. He holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Drexel University, an M.A. in geology from Penn State, and a Ph.D. in mining engineering, also from Penn State.