June 14, 2021
What does it take to be an effective leader? Management skills? Of course. The ability to solve problems? Absolutely. A Mizzou Engineering education? Turns out, that’s proven to be key for hundreds of CEOs and managers. Meet Dean Noah Manring, who’s on a mission to ensure the College continues that long-standing tradition of graduating C-suite professionals.
It’s not unusual for engineers to hold top positions. Google, Amazon, Microsoft — all founded and led by engineers. That’s true of non-tech companies, too: General Motors, Exxon Mobile, even a former CEO of McDonald’s started as an engineer.
But Mizzou Engineering has an especially high number of alumni at the helm — somewhere in the ballpark of 500 at last count. The CEOs of Dow, Inc., Black & Veatch and Burns & McDonnell are Mizzou Made. So are high-ranking officials at the National Security Agency and Department of Defense. At one point, Mizzou ranked fourth out of all U.S. universities, including Ivy League schools, with the most alumni in top spots.
What makes Mizzou Engineering an ideal place for future leaders? Manring suspects it’s because of the campus’s collaborative spirit. Unlike technical institutes, engineering students at Mizzou are living and working alongside business majors, aspiring journalists, future doctors and budding artists.
“When students study engineering at the University of Missouri, they come into a comprehensive institution where engineering is not the dominate field. We are 10% of this campus,” Manring said. “When a student goes out on the Quad, they’re going to be interacting with people who are not engineers. Technical schools are prestigious, but everybody on campus is focused on engineering and science. And they’re good at that, but I think the environment where you work alongside people of different disciplines is a better environment to foster leadership.”
Manring also points to the College’s more than 50 student clubs, organizations and competition teams. These groups select leaders, hold meetings and organize events throughout the school year.
“Take the SAE Formula Car Team,” he said, referring to the Society of Automotive Engineers racing group. “They’re raising money, building a car from the ground up every year, and electing officers. Leadership is being taught in these extracurricular experiences, which really do abound in the College of Engineering.”
A Willingness to Serve
Manring wasn’t looking to lead the College when he accepted the interim dean role last year; rather he stepped up to fill the need. After a year of proven leadership, MU Provost Latha Ramchand named him permanent dean in April.
It’s certainly not the first time he’s been in a leadership position. Manring has served as the College’s associate dean for research twice. He’s been chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering and, more recently, chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
“When I look at the various leadership roles I’ve had, they’ve been roles that have come to me driven by need,” he said. “But I’ve been put in positions of leadership because I really enjoy supporting faculty and staff. I love students and being in the classroom, but I have a special affinity for faculty and staff.”
Now at the helm of Mizzou Engineering, Manring is keeping one eye on history and the other on the future, as he’s poised to lead the College into a new era of growth and activity. He and his administrative team have crafted a strategic plan that centers on student success, research and outreach with a foundation of inclusivity and stewardship. At the same time, he’s a staunch caretaker of the College’s rich history and the role engineers have played in shaping the world as we know it.
In fact, Manring is in the process of penning a book celebrating notable engineering feats. “Opportunities, Genius & Entrepreneurship: A History of Modern Engineering” explores the accomplishments of Thomas Edison, of course, but also lesser-known innovators such as Thomas Telford, who built the first modern suspension bridge over the Menai Strait in 1826 after Ireland joined Great Britain.
“As I was studying significant inventors of the past two centuries, I realized that these three components were present,” Manring said. “Some opportunity came on the scene, for instance the uniting of Ireland and Britain. Thomas Telford didn’t have anything to do with that opportunity, he just happened to be there. But he was able to apply his genius and build this bridge to last forever.”
The Manai Bridge still stands today, and that’s a point Manring emphasizes. Engineers have made lasting impressions on the world, and their fingerprints are on everything from the light bulb to our transportation system to the smart phones in our pockets.
“It’s inspiring to know how profoundly engineers have changed the face of the world and how profoundly they’ve changed the standard of living for fellow man,” he said. “Sometimes we take for granted the things we have around us, but we wouldn’t be enjoying these conveniences were it not for engineers. It’s very important to be reminded of the influence engineers have and have had, and the great good they’ve done over the past 250 years.”
Mechanical Engineer in the Making
Manring may not have set out to pursue leadership roles, but his interest in mechanical engineering can be traced to a young age. He remembers rewiring motors for air compressors and even fixing his mom’s broken dishwasher in his youth. He decided to make a career of his interest in inner-workings.
Manring entered Michigan State University as a pre-medical student but switched to engineering when he recognized his aptitude was more aligned to mathematics and physical sciences.
After earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, Manring went into industry, working as a design engineer for Caterpillar, Inc., then later as a senior research engineer for Sauer-Sundstrand, now Danfoss Power Solutions. Both companies recognized his potential and helped him through graduate school.
Manring earned a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State and came to Mizzou in 1997.
“My interview at the University of Missouri was inspiring,” he recalled. “The institution was different. Mizzou proved to be the right fit for me.”
Here, he’s taught and studied the mechanical systems of airplanes, automobiles and earth-moving machinery. He’s researched gear pumps, thrust bearings, valves and transmissions. He wrote a comprehensive guide on hydraulic control systems, now in its second edition, and a book on fluid power pumps and motors.
In recent years, he’s turned his attention once again to health care, looking into blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
“For 25 years, I’ve made my area of study hydraulic control systems, and those systems are made up of pumps, valves and hoses,” he said. “It occurred to me as I was trying to make some of my research more relevant to life sciences that the cardiovascular system is simply pumps, valves and hoses. One of my more exciting publications recently is in the area of cardiovascular mechanics.”
Specifically, Manring is focused on precision health care — the notion that medical treatment should be individualized. Rather than treating everyone with high blood pressure the same, for instance, providers would determine and treat underlying causes, which could range from diet to stress.
He and a collaborator now have a patent pending around using echocardiogram data to access cardiovascular symptoms. It’s one of 15 patents Manring has had since 1996, work that gives him a first-hand understanding of the innovation and entrepreneurship side of engineering.
While he recognizes the important role business plays in bringing products to market, Manring says engineers are unique in that they have a front-row seat throughout the entire process.
“Engineers are involved in every aspect of the business,” he said. “Product development: engineers are doing that. Once a product is developed, they’re working with marketing people to explain what the widget does. Once a product is launched, engineers are in the field. Engineering cuts across every aspect of business.”
And for Mizzou Made engineers, that oftentimes means overseeing it from a corner office.
“Maybe the fact that engineers are so involved means they’re more attuned to leadership and find their way to the top,” Manring said. “But there’s something interesting about Mizzou Engineering in that way, because our list of corporate leaders goes on and on. It’s unmistakable. We really do graduate engineering leaders.”