A Conversation with Dean Richard Heist

A Conversation with Dean Richard Heist

Early this fall, Dr. Heist sat down for an interview to share his first impressions of Fairfield, his immediate plans for the months ahead, and his vision for the future of the School of Engineering.

Richard H. Heist, PhD, arrived on campus in July 2018 to begin his one-year assignment as interim dean of Fairfield’s School of Engineering. Dr. Heist retired from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. in 2016, where he retains the honorific title of senior vice president, emeritus, for Academic Affairs and Research.

Early this fall, Dr. Heist sat down for an interview to share his first impressions of Fairfield, his immediate plans for the months ahead, and his vision for the future of the School of Engineering.

How are you adjusting to life in Connecticut?

Well, my permanent address is on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida, but I’m a Northerner at heart – born and raised in Pennsylvania – and I spent much of my career in New York. I sailed my sailboat on the Long Island Sound for years, so I know this area, and it’s good to be back.

On campus, the adjustment has also been really smooth. Arriving in the summer, when things are a bit less intense, allowed me time to get settled in and to learn about Fairfield. And now that the fall semester is in full swing, the heavy lifting is done and I’ve been able to get things rolling in terms of helping the School of Engineering move ahead.


What were some of your first impressions of Fairfield University?

I knew about Fairfield because I was the dean of engineering at Manhattan College for seven years – right down the road in the Bronx – but I learned a lot more in preparation for this position, and I was impressed.

From an overall standpoint, the campus is lovely, and all the faculty and administrators I’ve met are truly genuine – they’re interested in the students, and in furthering opportunities for the students and the University. And I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of the students so far.


What do you consider to be the biggest strengths of Fairfield’s School of Engineering?

I think that one of the strengths of Fairfield’s Engineering program is that it aligns so well with the overall mission of the University, which puts such emphasis on being of service to humanity, and being dedicated to whole-person growth. Engineering is a ‘service to humanity’ profession. Everything an engineer does, they do to help somebody else in some way, shape, or form.

Character is also promoted here at Fairfield, and that too is an integral part of the engineering ethos. It’s important because character is the fundamental tenant of good leadership. That’s one of the things that we like to think we inculcate into our engineering students: a sense of leadership.

Another of the School of Engineering’s strengths is the strong faculty. You have here a very strong faculty cohort. They’re dedicated to the well-being and the support of the students. It’s all about the students – and that’s the kind of philosophy I like to see in an institution where the primary focus is teaching.


In what direction do you plan to steer the School of Engineering during your term as interim dean?

One of the ways to build the reputation of a school is to be known for a respected research program that people are aware of around the country or around the world. Several of the School of Engineering faculty are involved in some very good, cutting edge, applied research. I’d like to build on that, to raise our research profile and to become a little better known for the relatively small, yet important areas where we focus our research.

I'd also like to strengthen our academics, by continuing to emphasize the experiential component of our undergraduate programs. Every student should be involved in hands-on types of projects: a capstone project, a senior design project, a clinic, or a club project.  Even from the first year, learning how to oversee, develop, and engineer a project with others – a team – is something they must learn to do. They’ll make mistakes, they’ll have successes, but most of all they’ll be prepared for what follows after Fairfield.

On the graduate level, I’d really like to develop a better online delivery opportunity than we have right now. One of President Nemec’s goals is to increase graduate enrollment, and in order to do that we need to deliver a distance or online learning program. Many potential graduate students are employed full-time and can’t travel here for coursework, but a good online delivery vehicle would make an advanced degree attainable for them.


What is the long-term vision for Fairfield’s School of Engineering?

One of my goals when I came here was to work with the faculty to articulate a longer-term vision: where do they want to be in five to ten years? This is a priority, so that when we hire a permanent dean, he or she won’t need to figure out where the engineering school is heading, just how to get to where the school wants to go. Establishing this vision will take buy-in from faculty, students, and particularly the School of Engineering advisory board – the very successful colleagues from industry who give up their time to talk with us and strategize with us.

So these are the main fronts: the applied research front and the academic front – strengthening the experiential component of the undergraduate program, and growing the graduate program through online education. These are the things that I think will put us in a position to move up in the overall rankings, and to achieve our overall expectation of becoming a more nationally known program here at Fairfield.

Tags:  School of Engineering

Last modified: 11-07-18 10:36 AM


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