For Engineering Dean, the focus is on the students


When Dr. Evangelos ("Vagos") Hadjimichael was named dean of the School of Engineering at Fairfield University five years ago, it was no surprise that he applied his scientific background and extensive research experience to molding the curriculum. Now he is using the same approach to what some might call an intangible task - measuring the amount of learning occurring in engineering students.

Since 1997, Dr. Hadjimichael and the faculty in the School of Engineering have instituted a method of quantifying student learning called ACQI or Assessment and Continuous Quality Improvement. This cutting-edge system of evaluation resembles the models employed by major corporations to test the quality of their products, and includes systematic surveying of the School's major constituents - students, alumni, employers - on their satisfaction with the education being provided.

"The focus is no longer on 'bean counting' - how many labs do we have or how good are our professors?" says Hadjimichael, dean of the School. "The more important question is - is the student learning well?"

Not that he is leaving anything to chance when it comes to the professors or the engineering labs, which today are outfitted with high-tech scientific equipment such as the INSTROM tester, a large device that measures 300 different properties of solid materials. Companies from the surrounding Connecticut region periodically use the industrial-capacity machine for their unique research needs.

Still, his concern about the students is foremost. "Young people mature and learn in different ways." "Our hope is to prevent anyone from falling though the cracks."

A scientist at heart, Dr. Hadjimichael boasts about the University's push in the last decade to immerse undergraduates in the research experience. Students in physics, chemistry, and biology learn valuable skills as they work alongside professors and assist them in their research. Many of these student-teacher partnerships continue beyond the school year into the summer months. "This gives our students an advantage," he says. "They get acclimated to the use of sophisticated equipment, learn hands-on skills from the professors, and ultimately go out and get good positions."

Dr. Hadjimichael also employs his methods of observation and analysis in looking beyond the world of higher education to the high-tech establishments where he hopes Fairfield University graduates will one day make their professional contributions. He concentrates on forging "long-term, robust partnerships with local industries," not so much to win jobs for students, but to stay on the cusp of the evolving engineering field. "Those partnerships help me be aware of what an engineering education should be like, to better serve my constituents," he says.

Dr. Hadjimichael was a chief instigator in bringing the School of Engineering to the University. In the early 1990s, he alerted University President Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., about an opportunity to merge with the Bridgeport Engineering Institute (BEI). In 1994, the University took over the independent college, whose evening programs had, since 1924, given working adults the opportunity to pursue their educational and career enrichment goals on a part-time basis. "Fr. Kelley recognized the importance of an engineering program and put his weight behind it," Hadjimichael says.

In addition to continuing BEI's founding mission to adult part-time learners, the School has introduced master's programs in the Management of Technology (offered jointly with the School of Business) and Software Engineering. This fall, it assumed oversight of the University's existing Engineering 3/2 undergraduate program and will begin offering full-time undergraduate degrees on campus in mechanical, electrical, and computer and information systems engineering.

Before Hadjimichael made the switch to administrator in 1995, he maintained an impressive 24-year streak as a funded research scientist, garnering grants totaling approximately $1.1 million. Annually, he secured money from the National Science Foundation to explore his area of expertise - theoretical nuclear physics with an emphasis on the photonuclear reactions in light nuclei - often in collaboration with colleagues at major scientific institutions such as Brown University, MIT, and Stony Brook.

Hadjimichael joined the Fairfield University faculty in 1967 as an assistant professor of physics. In 1972, he received tenure as well as promotion to associate professor and, two years later, was elevated to full professor. He was named chairman of the Physics Department in 1985. A graduate of City College of New York and the University of California at Berkeley where he earned a Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics, he served as a research associate at Yale University and an assistant professor at California Polytechnic Institute.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 1, 1999

Vol. 32, No. 124