2023 Progress Report

An Update from the Dean

In 2020, our Cornell Engineering community embarked on a journey to develop a plan that would bolster our standing as a center of excellence for research, teaching, and technology innovation. A strategic plan that would allow the college to have meaningful and lasting impact on the world around us. Throughout the process, I often commented that there had never been a better time to be an engineer — and particularly a Cornell Engineer. I feel this more strongly every day.

This is, frankly, our time to make a difference. Technology, ideas, information and cultures are colliding in new ways and at an unprecedented scale and complexity. Cornell Engineering is uniquely prepared to meet this moment. We are rooted in more than 150 years of path-defining research and a commitment to educating rigorously trained, well-rounded engineers. We’ve developed a deeply ingrained culture of collaborating across disciplines, and we maintain a clear dedication to including all perspectives as we take on society’s biggest problems.

Our strength has always come from solving problems collectively, and the Cornell Engineering 2030 plan is the roadmap our faculty and staff developed together to ensure our future success.

Cornell Engineering 2030 is a bold and achievable vision for how we can and will progress on several key fronts. We committed ourselves to nurturing, rewarding, and celebrating excellence; to building research strength at the interfaces between priority fields; to developing a cohort of teaching excellence faculty; to developing our bridges to other Cornell colleges and campuses; to modernizing our spaces; and to being a leader in the creation of “living laboratory” experiences.

Since launching the implementation phase of our strategic plan in 2022, we have made strides in all of these areas. In some cases, our early progress has exceeded my high expectations. This report outlines what we have accomplished so far, adjustments we have made, and work that remains in our ongoing effort to achieve our ambitious goals.

We are aware that significant work still lies ahead. The challenges of our time will take bravery, humility, determination, and collaboration. We have long lived these values — and we have never been more prepared to apply them to the forging of a better future. I deeply appreciate the contributions of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and extended community members to our plan and our progress to date. I look forward to continuing to provide updates as we endeavor to realize our vision.

Dean Lynden Archer's signature
Lynden A. Archer
Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering
James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering
September 1, 2023

Nurture, reward, and celebrate excellence

Our focus in nurturing, rewarding, and celebrating excellence is embedded in nearly all our strategic priorities. One area of early emphasis has been on ensuring that others recognize the excellence of our faculty.

Since 2021, Cornell Engineering has increased the number of faculty with endowed professorships from 20 to 57 and continues to work toward philanthropic goals in funding endowed professorships for our faculty.

We have assembled a committee to nominate senior members of the faculty for the highest levels of national recognition and engage with department-level faculty awards committees. This initiative has improved mentoring and nomination processes for junior members of the faculty for college- and professional society-level awards, which are often the precursor for national recognitions.  To date, the committee’s work led to six nominations for National Academy of Engineers membership. Two new members, Chris Ober and Kelin Kuhn, both in Materials Science and Engineering, were elected in February 2023.

Build strength at the interfaces between fields

We have been proactive and effective at incentivizing multi-investigator research partnerships that bridge disciplines.

In late 2022, we launched our new Sprout Awards program, which offers a competitive mechanism for supporting early-stage research projects between teams of two or more faculty members that span departments and colleges. The program is specifically designed to transition unfunded, but successful, cross-disciplinary research to funded, multi-investigator programs. The initial round of Sprout Awards supported five collaborations that ranged in topic from tendon injury treatment to biomass-based construction materials and included faculty participation from five Cornell colleges. The second round funded six new projects, as well as one renewal, on cross-disciplinary topics that ranged from exploring the mechanics of early-stage bone metastasis to analyzing price formation policies in wholesale electricity markets.

Through aggressive faculty recruitment efforts, Cornell Engineering has relatively quickly developed a vibrant community of scholars in Quantum Information Science and Technology, one of the priority research directions identified in Cornell Engineering 2030.  Spanning three engineering disciplines – Applied and Engineering Physics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering – this research area aligns well with the university-level investment in a Quantum Radical Collaboration.

In partnership with the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, the Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, the College of Human Ecology, and Cornell Tech, we developed a new Design Tech Radical Collaboration and multi-college department. Uli Wiesner, the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Materials Science and Engineering, is a member of the inaugural faculty of the multi-college department, and Cornell Engineering is in the early stages of recruiting one Radical Collaboration Design Tech faculty that will span the fields of Materials Science and Engineering and Art, Architecture, and Planning.

Build bridges to Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City

In September 2022, we kicked off of our ambitious new initiative aimed at accelerating engineering innovations in medicine, which will bring faculty in Ithaca and New York City together to meaningfully advance clinical and translational research, and to develop new educational programs, through strategic cross-campus partnerships.

The Engineering Innovations in Medicine initiative is being led by Emmanuel Giannelis, the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, as well as Cornell’s former Vice President for Research and Innovation. Leaders from both Cornell Engineering and Weill Cornell Engineering have defined a multipronged, organized approach to accelerate progress in educating future-ready physicians and engineers and advancing the frontiers of clinical and translational medical research. As part of the educational innovation pillar of this initiative, we are piloting an M.D.-M.Eng. program that allows medical students at Weill Cornell Medicine to earn a one-year professional Master of Engineering degree while they are in medical school. This program produced its first graduate in May 2023, and two more students are enrolled for the 2023-24 academic year.

In collaboration with Cornell Tech, Cornell Engineering appointed Silvia Ferrari as Associate Dean for Cross-campus research. In this inaugural position, she will develop impactful initiatives and cross-campus research partnerships that lead to research centers of excellence spanning the Ithaca and New York City campuses, as well as the Technion. Ferrari’s focus is on big ideas in priority research areas, such as autonomy, robotics, urban technology, and neuroscience.

Develop a cohort of teaching excellence fellows & faculty

Cornell Engineering is solidifying our expertise in discipline-based education research to inform and improve our pedagogical practices throughout our college and embed Engineering Communications Programming throughout Cornell Engineering. This initiative has gained early traction through the addition of Allison Godwin, associate professor in the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Alexandra Werth, assistant professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, and Suzanne Lane, senior lecturer in the Engineering Communications Program.

The James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute (MTEI) has ramped up its ongoing work to spread best practices throughout the college. In 2023, MTEI held the first Engineering Teaching Day covering topics such as active learning, helping students learn to learn and facilitating teamwork in instructional settings. MTEI also held a multi-day workshop for new faculty covering topics such as course planning, course management and active learning.

Modernizing Cornell Engineering spaces

We are making significant progress on updating our campus, building by building.

Construction is underway for a $43M addition to Thurston Hall, and it is on target for completion in August 2024.

A pre-schematic study for a renovation and expansion of Phillips and Duffield Halls is nearing completion, and it is poised to continue to Schematic Design, Design Development and Construction Documentation (pending funding approvals). This is potentially a $78M total project.

The college has invested more than $13.5M in new faculty research labs to support hires in quantum, advanced materials and materials by design. Additionally, to date, we have invested $2.8M toward the Cornell University Borehole Observatory (CUBO) project, a key component of the University’s Earth Source Heat initiative to meet carbon neutral goals.

Created sustainable financial support model to update classrooms and have completed upgrades for two classrooms in Thurston Hall, and one each in Phillips, Hollister, and Olin Halls

Lead in creating “Living Laboratory” experiences

Cornell Engineering believes in empowering our students and faculty to use our campus as “living laboratory,” fostering an innovative and entrepreneurial environment.

Perhaps the best example of this mindset in action is our participation in the creation of CUBO, The a two-mile-deep observatory. The project represents a major step toward assessing the viability of the university’s plans to use Earth Source Heat to warm the Ithaca campus without the use of fossil fuels and provides a platform for deep earth exploration and experimentation. The creation of the observatory, the subsequent and ongoing analysis relating to Earth Source Heat, as well as future research using the platform has involved — and will continue to involve — significant participation from students and faculty in multiple engineering schools and departments.

In 2022, in partnership with Toyota Material Handling, we established the Forklift Learning Studio as an experiential learning lab experiential to elevate engineering education, turning the vehicles into interactive tools for studying thermofluids, modeling structural mechanics, and experimenting with control dynamics. Eventually, the space will serve at least seven different engineering courses.

In 2021, Cornell Engineering hired David Putnam, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor in Engineering and in the Meinig School of Biomedical and the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, as the college’s first Associate Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Under Putnam’s leadership, we piloted a successful faculty entrepreneurship sabbatical program and created space that will facilitate expansion of the Praxis Physical Incubator into Kimball Hall. We are also in discussions with alumni and friends of the college to create the CoEfficient Fund, which will provide strategic funding to support engineering researchers in improving the business readiness of technologies developed in their laboratories.

Priority Research Directions

Cornell Engineering continues to forge ahead in strengthening our priority research directions in:

  1. Climate, Energy, and Environmental Systems
  2. Data-Driven Decisions, AI and Machine Learning
  3. Molecular Engineering
  4. Quantum Information Science and Technology
  5. Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  6. Space Technology and Systems
  7. Translational Biotechnology and Precision Medicine

We have prioritized faculty hiring, investments in research and facility renovations, and educational initiatives to gain traction and see successes over the last two years.

Faculty growth

With a goal of increasing the total number of engineering faculty across Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses by 20% over the next decade, we are aggressive in our efforts to recruit talented faculty who are leaders in the priority research directions identified in the Cornell Engineering 2030 plan. To that end, since 2020, 32 new Cornell Engineering faculty offers were accepted for appointments in Ithaca. All of the priority research directions are represented in these hires, two of which are senior faculty within the university’s Radical Collaboration initiative.

Increased Research Expenditures

We aim to increase our average annual research expenditures to $850K per faculty member. Research expenditures increased steadily between 2016 and 2020, with better than linear increases in 2018 and 2020. In 2020, three large – $10M or more – proposals of were awarded to lead principal investigators in engineering.

Expenditures dropped in FY21, likely a result of lab closures due to the pandemic. They are recovering, with a positive slope between FY21 and FY22.

We will continue our work to increase overall expenditures by about $35M in the next seven years, or about $5M per year.  With the Cornell Engineering faculty’s recent success in being awarded and average of one large project per year over the last five years, we are on track to meet this goal.

We are working to identify opportunities with larger returns and develop tools to help steer proposals toward them.

Summary of larger proposals submitted by engineering faculty:
Total Budget FY18-19 FY19-20 FY20-21 FY21-22 FY22-23
>$10M 0 3 0 2 0
$1M-$10M 17 23 20 37 3

The largest grants awarded to Cornell Engineering-led proposals in the last two fiscal years align nicely with our priority research directions, including the $29M from the SRC for the SUPeRior Energy-efficient Materials and dEvices (SUPREME) Center led by Huili Grace Xing, the William L. Quackenbush Professor of Engineering in Materials Science and Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering  $15M from the National Science Foundation for an NSF I-Corps Hub led by Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering; $9M from the NSF to support the work of David Hysell, the Thomas R Briggs Professor in Earth and Atmospheric Science,  at the Jicamarca Radio Observatory; $9M from the Air Force Research Laboratory for a Northeast AFRL Regional Research Convergence Hub led by Emmanuel Giannelis; $7M from the Office of Naval Research to support a center led by Robert Shepherd, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, focused on autonomous propulsion; and $5M from the National Institutes of Health to support research by Chris Schaeffer, professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, examining blood flow in the brain.

Additionally, a collaboration between Carla Gomes, the Ronald C. and Antonia V. Nielsen Professor of Computing and Information Science, and Fengqi You, the Roxanne E. and Michael J. Zak Professor in Energy Systems Engineering, was successful in securing funding from the Eric and Wendy Schmidt AI in Science Postdoctoral Fellowship program that will support approximately 60 postdoctoral associates, Cornell-wide, over the next six years. These are all significant awards that advance Cornell Engineering’s priority research directions.

Priority Education Directions

Since implementing the strategic plan, Cornell Engineering has seen early success in changes to the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) programs. In July 2023 Kathryn Caggiano was named Associate Dean for M.Eng. Programs. We have also created two new distance learning M.Eng. programs in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

We have also continued to grow our Engineering Leadership Program, which aims to provide all of our graduates with leadership training. Ten different Leadership Skills Clinics were offered for the first time in Fall 2022.  These workshops teach practical skills for effective teamwork and leadership. More than 90 students participated in this first year.  The Coaching and Mentoring for Professional and Student Success (COMPASS) program has also been redesigned to reach more students.

Our commitment to experiential learning is evident in the progress made by our Student Project Teams. The program has expanded its reach, growing to 34 teams and 1380 students in 2022-23. Also, through a multi-year process with inputs from students, faculty advisors and the college curriculum committee, two new project team courses administered by the college were implemented.  These include ENGRG 1400, a course that onboards students to the program and covers topics such as safety, accountability, and positive team dynamics. Students then enroll in ENGRG 3400 for credit for the actual work on their team.  This course provides a program-wide framework for base-line deliverables and critical reflection on learning outcomes.  In Fall 2023, the launched ENGRD 4400 Student Project Team Leadership, a course that will integrate elements of the Leadership Skills Clinics to support the professional development of student team leads.

The Engineering Communications Program (ECP) faculty has grown by two, and they are now, for the first time since 2015, in a position to meet the demand for seats in ECP courses from graduating seniors.  The EXP course ENGRC 3500 is now being delivered in a remote, asynchronous mode, as well as in-person. This remote, asynchronous option provides students with greater access to the course whether they are on campus or away.

Community & Belonging

As part of our strategic plan, Cornell Engineering has put together multiple programs to improve campus climate and sense of belonging. These include a $5,000 one-time award to departments that set up at least two mechanisms for regular community dialogue, as well as  a six-hour mandatory faculty training in all departments, facilitated by the Intergroup Dialogue Project, to become better at communicating with our increasingly diverse student population.

We also launched the EPICC Awards program based on community-developed core values of excellence, purpose, innovation, community, and collaboration. The values this program celebrates are deeply embedded in our culture and have long been embodied by our staff and faculty.  Awardees are presented with a gift and accolades at an annual celebratory event.

Duffield Hall in the snow with

Photo by Jason Koski, Cornell University.