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MU Engineering names interim associate dean

Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chairman Robert Tzou, a James C. Dowell professor, has been named interim associate dean of the University of Missouri College of Engineering. Tzou replaces Lex Akers, who left the MU Engineering at the beginning of May.

Robert Tzou, James C. Dowell Professor and chairman of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE), has been appointed interim associate dean of the University of Missouri College of Engineering. Tzou, who has chaired MAE for 15 years, replaces Lex Akers, who recently took a position as founding dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

“We are facing great growth in the college at a time when state and campus support has declined, and I will be working with the dean to find ways to continue to ensure student effectiveness,” Tzou said, identifying the key challenges of his new position.

Tzou is well acquainted with managing growth. When he was named MAE chairman in 1997, the department was home to 214 undergraduate students, and faculty research spending totaled $400,000. Since then, the department has grown to be the largest in the college and the sixth largest on the MU campus with 749 enrolled students last semester and $3.8 million in faculty research.

“Mechanical engineering is the only engineering discipline on campus to be in the top 10 of Mizzou’s most frequently declared majors,” Tzou said. National growth in mechanical engineering programs has averaged 4.8 percent per year over the last 10 years, Tzou noted, while mechanical engineering at Mizzou has experienced 16.7 percent growth per year over the last 15 years.

In addition to increasing eLearning offerings, the administrate team — led by Dean James Thompson and also including Associate Dean of Research Sam Kiger — is examining the possibility of an increase in problem-based learning (PBL). That learning strategy is a more “student-centered” approach to teaching whereby the students and the faculty collectively determine learning opportunities and processes. Assignments and activities that require student input also increase student motivation to learn.

Tzou believes that one of the college’s greatest resources is its faculty and that one way engineering can effectively meet its challenges is by further utilizing faculty talent.

“Our role is to support and engage faculty and unleash their potential,” Tzou said. The Mizzou Engineering administrative team is forming faculty committees/task forces that would, among other things, recommend ways to further optimize college resources.

“As college challenges are addressed, optimization will be key and that’s exactly what engineers have been trained to do,” he said. “Faculty working together also can identify funding and grant opportunities,” he added, citing GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) Fellowships as an example of current faculty collaborative success.

“It is the challenge of any administration to do more and better with less, and it is a challenge I am willing to take on as part of a great team,” said Tzou.

Tzou is an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) fellow and the founding chair for the organization’s International Conference on Micro/Nanoscale Heat Transfer, one of his research emphases. He earned his doctorate at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and worked at the University of New Mexico and Lehigh University before joining the MU Engineering faculty.