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Making Engineering Management Work In An Academic Environment: The Use Of Matrix Management To Re Engineer A College Of Engineering And Technology

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



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Page Numbers

4.371.1 - 4.371.9

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William Swart

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Session 2542

Making Engineering Management Work in an Academic Environment - The Use of Project Management to Re-Engineer a College of Engineering and Technology

William Swart Old Dominion University


Academic institutions are notorious for their resistance to change. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a leading proponent for the need to effectuate fundamental and systemic change in this country’s engineering education system. To that end, it has funded numerous “Engineering Education Coalitions” consisting of a number of engineering colleges at different institutions working together to remedy the perceived shortcomings in the engineering education system. The volume of change and innovations that have resulted from these coalitions is phenomenal as can be seen by accessing their home pages via NSF’s web site (

Developing and proposing change is, however, a different matter from implementing it and managing the change process. At a recent Innovators’ Conference hosted by NSF, a workshop was held on factors of importance in institutionalizing change1. Although a number of factors were discussed, there was no specific prescription on how to organize and create the changes in the first place.

This paper will describe how the principles of engineering management were employed to temporarily reorganize a large College of Engineering and Technology to accomplish a specific set of tasks. This reorganization, based upon the principles of matrix management, resulted in a complete re-engineering of the College’s programs and curricula. The results, achieved by faculty working in cross-functional teams are now institutionalized in the catalog and being executed. More importantly, the results were achieved in one academic year.

1. Introduction

I accepted the opportunity to become Dean of Old Dominion University’s College of Engineering and Technology in the Spring of 1997. During the interview process and as a result of numerous discussions with faculty and university level administrators, it became obvious that one of my main challenges would be to transform a divided, demoralized, and hostile faculty in conflict with the administration into a cooperative, goal oriented team. The other challenge would be to engage the team in effectuating a turnaround in a multi-year monotonic decline in enrollments and external research funding. In short, a dream job.

Effectuating change is difficult, particularly in academic environments where faculty are used to pursuing individual as opposed to organizational objectives. Changing this culture is risky in a period when the demand for high technology professionals is at an all time high. I have seen a number of faculty leave academia for private sector jobs, and several of my fellow deans at other

Swart, W. (1999, June), Making Engineering Management Work In An Academic Environment: The Use Of Matrix Management To Re Engineer A College Of Engineering And Technology Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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