Engineering path leads Schwartz to interim dean job at MU
Growing up in Dover, Del., during what he described as a “time of intensity,” Robert Schwartz was influenced deeply by the social and political climate in the world.
“We were also trying to win the space race,” he continued. “Technology was changing rapidly. The Russians launched Sputnik. President Kennedy challenged us to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
And the television show “Star Trek” captured the imagination of the entire country, introducing scientific possibilities in a compelling and “very cool” format to a 10-year-old boy.
Schwartz also was introduced to engineering as a boy. His father was a mechanical engineer who worked to support his family as a plant manager for an international company.
“It was a tough job,” Schwartz said. “But I didn’t really understand that until I started working as an engineer. Our parents sacrificed a lot for my brother and me, and as young people, I don’t believe we were really aware just how hard they worked.”
While his older brother Richard earned a degree in electrical engineering, Schwartz completed his B.S. degree in science education at North Carolina State University to become a high school chemistry teacher. Then he went on to finish the necessary coursework and research for a master’s in chemistry and then took advantage of an opportunity to work with a research group at B.F. Goodrich. A year later, he went back to NCSU to defend his thesis.
One of the classes he took at NCSU had a lasting impact on him, influencing him to change course again.
“I took an Intro to Materials class from Robert F. Davis [now a named materials science and engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a National Academy Member]. “His specialty was wide band-gap electronics. I always remembered that course and decided to go back to school full-time to pursue my Ph.D.”
Schwartz earned his doctorate in ceramic engineering from the University of Illinois. He went to work for Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico after graduating, and for eight years, he conducted research in thin film electronics, specifically radiation-hard memory devices. He made the leap to academia in 1997, joining the materials science and engineering faculty at Clemson University.
In 2002, Schwartz accepted a position with the UM System as a materials science and engineering professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, eventually becoming the associate chair of the department. He was tapped to serve as vice provost for academic affairs in 2007.
“As vice provost, I worked closely with the faculty and chairs of the 19 academic departments on the Missouri S&T campus. The responsibilities of our office included faculty hiring, promotion and tenure, interviewing candidates and managing faculty award processes,” he said. “I had the opportunity to build the office from scratch because of an administrative restructuring at the campus.”
At Missouri S&T, Schwartz also served as interim provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, overseeing a $77 million budget before taking the position of chief of staff and custodian of records for UM System President Tim Wolfe in 2012.
“I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated my position as chief of staff, and it was an amazing learning experience. But I also relished working directly with students and faculty in past positions,” Schwartz said.
“My decision to accept the offer to serve as MU Engineering interim dean was influenced, in part, by the opportunity to again experience being part of an academic unit on campus,” he said.
He also took the job because he felt he could help the college capitalize on some areas of opportunity and also lend his expertise to some of the challenges faced by the college.
“I don’t have my own agenda,” he said. “I’m going to do what I think is right for the college. I’m known for my integrity and ethical behavior and I think both will help me do what I believe needs to be done.”
Schwartz said he has enjoyed meeting the college’s faculty, staff and students, the latter of whom he said are friendly and open and who show a great desire to take advantage of what the college has to offer to build the skills they will need to succeed in their careers following graduation.
“We are blessed to have faculty and staff that really care and who recognize the importance of what they’re doing for the success of the students and the institution,” he said. “There is brilliance in the faculty. Many are doing world-class research.”
As interim dean, Schwartz said he sees the college’s priorities as upgrading the facilities, increased collaboration — inside and out — and encouragement of entrepreneurship and economic development partnerships.
Schwartz hasn’t yet met many engineering alumni, but said those he has been introduced to have a lot of passion for the college. He has a message to share with MU College of Engineering alumni:
“I hope your degree has carried you as far as you hoped it would, or perhaps even further, as mine has done,” he said. “If you’re not connected, I hope you will reconnect. We need you to help us address the college’s challenges by serving on our boards and more.
“There are many ways you can reach out to work with the college and invest in its long term success,” he said.
Schwartz said there is a plenty to do as interim dean. He is working with Interim Provost Ken Dean and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to review the college’s budgets with an eye to strategic planning and balanced funding.
Campus also has encouraged the interim dean to increase the college’s outreach and collaboration with alumni, corporate partners and with the administration and faculty at Missouri S&T.
“I want to do whatever I can to make this the strongest college it can be,” he said, and added that positioning the college to more closely reflect Association of American University standards by increasing faculty, research funding, publications and citations also is a top priority.
And when he isn’t shouldering the responsibilities of an interim engineering dean, Schwartz said he enjoys reading and boating, and he also is a dedicated runner, participating in half-marathons. Cindy, his wife of 14 years, is a Stephens College alumna and works part time. The couple has no children, but they greatly enjoy spending time and keeping up with their 11 nieces and nephews.