Vincent Wilczynski, deputy dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, pulls out nine cards and lays them on the table. Each card is complete with a picture, name, stats and a small profile.
But the cards do not feature baseball players. Instead, they feature the nine newest junior faculty hires in SEAS.
“If we recruited well, and I’m sure we did, I would advise you to hang onto these cards: A future National Medal of Technology or Nobel Prize Winner is likely in these stacks,” SEAS Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick wrote in an October 2013 letter announcing the nine new hires.
In the past five years, the school has nearly doubled its tenure-track teaching faculty from 30 to 59 full, associate and assistant professors. This recent slew of hires, who have all started at Yale within the past year and a half, comprise a nearly 20 percent increase in faculty at the school. Looking back on their initial months at Yale, they said they value the strong mentoring from senior faculty members, the tight-knit community, one-on-one professor-student interactions and the liberal arts environment.
But they have also encountered challenges specific to engineering and to Yale — the departments’ female-to-male ratios are extremely low and, unlike schools that some faculty interviewed have departed, Yale’s engineering departments are still far from the size of those departments at peer schools.
Professor of chemical and environmental engineering Jaehong Kim came to Yale after teaching for 11 years at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech’s environmental engineering undergraduate program is rated third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and its graduate environmental engineering program is rated fourth. In comparison, the SEAS and underlying environmental engineering department are ranked 34th by U.S. News & World Report.
But after teaching a seminar course at Yale in 2010 as a visiting professor, Kim said both he and Yale expressed interest in him taking a full-time faculty position.
He said he came to Yale, leaving a highly regarded engineering school in the process, because the “family-like” size of the department makes classes more intimate and interactions between students and faculty members more frequent.
According to professor of electrical engineering and computer science Jakub Szefer, who came to Yale after finishing his Ph.D. at Princeton, small classes and a small department mean he and other faculty members have the opportunity to build and develop the program instead of just getting lost in a sea of unknown faces.
“Here, everyone knows me,” he said.
One benefit of the small faculty size is a strong mentorship program for junior faculty members, said professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Judy Cha and professor of chemical and environmental engineering and forestry and environmental studies Drew Gentner. Each junior faculty member gets advice from older faculty members on how they can improve in their research and teaching, Cha explained.
But Szefer also said that the small size has its disadvantages. The department could definitely benefit from more hires, he noted.
Professor of electrical engineering Fengnian Xia said he has heard from many of his students that they would appreciate more faculty, so that the department can offer a greater variety of courses. Xia, who decided to return to academia after researching at IBM, said that with more faculty, the University would have more opportunities for researchers to collaborate on projects.
At Georgia Tech, Kim said, the number of faculty in his department alone was roughly the same as the entirety of SEAS at Yale. Georgia Tech’s engineering school has more than 500 faculty members, nearly 10 times that of Yale’s.
Professor of electrical engineering and computer science Wenjun Hu, who came to Yale after working for Microsoft in China, said she is surprised that Yale’s department is smaller than those at comparably sized institutions like Harvard.
Despite the size and ranking difference, Yale is emerging as a player in the environmental engineering game, Kim said. He pointed to the fact that, this coming June, the school will host a biannual conference held by the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, a prestigious environmental engineering conference. He added that his goal is to help make the chemical and environmental engineering department at Yale the best in the nation for its size.
Right now, one of the things the University has working for it is its status as a well-respected liberal arts school, Kim said. With Yale’s curriculum, he has found a mix between science, art, music, the humanities and engineering. At Georgia Tech, on the other hand, he had few opportunities to go to art galleries or even meet faculty members in other non-Engineering departments, he said.
“It has been really intellectually stimulating and really makes my life a lot richer,” Kim said. “It has been a very eye-opening experience after coming from a big engineering school.”
Gentner added that Yale’s liberal arts focus provides unique opportunities for him to collaborate with engineers in other departments, as well as faculty outside of SEAS. At the moment, he is collaborating with researchers from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies on an air pollution project.
But as Yale works to compete with its peer institutions, it also finds itself facing the same issues that plague almost all engineering departments across the nation.
Cha said one issue which the entire faculty is hoping to improve in SEAS is the ratio of male to female undergraduate and graduate students. In the past academic year, the mechanical engineering department accepted at least two female graduate students, but none chose to attend, Cha said. Currently, of the 59 tenure-track faculty in SEAS, only eight are women.