Almost 50 years in the making, the history of The William States Lee College of Engineering at UNC Charlotte is one rich in educating engineers and technologists who have gone forward to make significant contributions to their professions and communities. The impact of these contributions are the legacy of the college. To celebrate this legacy, the college held its Engineering Legacy Banquet on Nov. 4, 2014.
“The purpose of the event was to honor the many contributions of our students, faculty and industry partners,” said Stamie Despo, alumni and external relations coordinator for Lee College of Engineering “At the same time we wanted to expose this legacy to our current students, as we prepare them to be tomorrow’s leaders.”
In attendance at the event were numerous college scholarship recipients, who had the chance to meet and have dinner with the people whose gifts have made their scholarships possible. Current and former faculty members, alumni and friends of the college were also in attendance.
“Tonight we honor those who have made significant, lasting contributions to our college,” said Lee College of Engineering Dean Bob Johnson. “It is truly a pleasure to see so many alumni, students, donors, industry leaders and other members of The William States Lee College of Engineering ‘family’ gathered here tonight.”
Reading from the handwritten notes of Bill Lee himself from the 1994 naming of the college, Dean Johnson quoted, “Keep your commitment to excellence for continuous improvement. Collaborate between administration, faculty and students. Seek to continually improve, plan it, do it, measure it, change it, and repeat the cycle. Ethical leadership and ethical behavior have always been important, and now more than ever we need to elevate the visibility and awareness of the importance of ethics. This is of course, increasingly driven by the pace of change in our nation, but also the ever-faster pace of change in other nations, many with traditions and mores different from ours. So, as we engage worldwide, we must be acutely conscious of our values.”
“Twenty years later,” Dean Johnson said, “these words still describe the overarching culture of our college, with its strength in applied engineering, commitment to ethics, and collaboration across the Carolinas and beyond.”
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois spoke about the tremendous growth of the college of engineering. “We’re fortunate to have such a strong college of engineering at UNC Charlotte. It is really outstanding what the college has accomplished in just the time that Dean Johnson has been here, which is the past 15 years.”
In that time, engineering has gone from being housed in two buildings with a combined 120,000 square feet of space, to now six buildings encompassing 500,000 square feet. On an annual basis now, 175 engineering faculty and staff help about 600 individuals graduate with an engineering or engineering technology degree. Each year, the college adds nearly 900 new freshman. The current total engineering student population is nearly 3,300, with 2,700 undergrads and 500 grad students. This academic year (2014-15) the Lee College of Engineering awarded scholarships to 94 students totaling almost $220,000.
“In attendance here tonight are the students, faculty, alumni, and industry supporters who have, are, and will continue to play an important role in transforming North Carolina’s urban research university to meet the workforce education and research needs for the state and beyond,” Chancellor Dubois said. “Part of what separates this engineering college from others is the focus on applied research and a spirit of entrepreneurship. True to this we welcome, Igor Jablokov, our keynote speaker, a fellow engineer and 49er.”
As keynote speaker, Jablokov talked to the audience about the interplay between engineering and entrepreneurship. “It is great to see tonight the diversity of thought here, which is the cradle of innovation. The skills you are learning here will be valuable to society in the future.”
Jablokov is an entrepreneur in residence for Blackstone NC, a regional initiative focused on commercializing university-based research. He serves on the boards of the Council of Entrepreneurial Development, Innovate + Educate, Queen City Forward, and Veterans for Ventures.
In many cases it can take years and even decades for ideas that are being proposed now to be developed and implemented, Jablokov said. And the development of an idea can involve numerous technologies and industries.
“When this college is educating engineers, it is not just producing people to go to work in an office, close the door and shut out the rest of the world,” he said. “It is educating the next generation of leaders in our industries and communities.”
Jablokov concluded his remarks with a quote from Herbert Hoover about engineers - “It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privilege.”
Videos about the past, present and future legacy of The William States Lee College of Engineering that were shown during the banquet are here: