ultoday.com continues its interview with Dr. Mark Zappi, Dean of Engineering, as he talks about his broad vision for the College.

To read the Part I of this interview, click here. 

Talk about your vision for the UL College of Engineering.

Long term? To be #1 in the country. When you say "Georgia Tech," "Stanford," "MIT,"-- and you notice I'm not smiling-- I also want you to also say "The University of Louisiana."

I think near term, our goal is to tie ourselves to institutions that are slightly peer-plus. When you look at undergraduate education, we're as good as anybody is, and we're better than many.

What do you base that on? Do you have objective metrics?

When it comes to undergraduate education, there are very few numbers you can use to evaluate performance. With Research & Development, I have the grants funding numbers and papers published. That's not so for undergraduate education, I don't have clear metrics. However, our kids have multiple job offers, and in many cases, companies will come to us for our graduates. They're only interviewing at 15-20 schools across the entire country, and they're coming to UL. All those lists you see of the best schools are oriented toward graduate school. When it comes to undergraduate colleges, I hear this story-- in fact, I lived it-- I hear the same story, time and again from UL graduates, "I got out there, I was competing with Cal Tech, Illinois, Texas graduates, and one day it dawned on me, 'I'm as good, or better than any of them.'"

And that's a common theme. I'm not necessarily saying our programs are better, but I'd stack them up against anybody.

So give us a little bit more money, and just imagine what we could do with that. This University, as a whole, has performed miracles. I come back after being gone for 20 years, and I get a chance to see what's actually been done here, I can only say hats off to Dr. Authément, the faculty, and the community. We have performed miracles, we have produced champagne on a beer budget. Give us a high-quality beer budget, or even better, a champagne budget, and... just look out.

That's an ambitious vision. Why should the community be interested in this?

Well, colleges of engineering, and universities as a whole, can be a primary economic engine. If you look at successful clusters-- high standard of living, technological development, high tech lifestyles-- globally in fact, not just in the United States, they're all centered around universities, particularly universities that have technology-based programs. Research Triangle Park, Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, you name it, the clusters are all built around comprehensive institutions with strong technology programs.

If you had to pick one such community that you wanted to emulate, that you admired the most, who would that be?

Uhhh... Lafayette.

Outside of Lafayette, who would you pick?

I look a lot of factors, I used to like the Austin area, and I still do, but it's become a little too crowded for me. I like Boulder area. I thought Berkeley was a neat area.

What do you like about those areas?

Well, I like the university, I like the industries, I like the free thinking that has evolved around those institutions. Research Triangle Park, what a unique area there... that's one of my favorites. You have three major universities, a lot of smaller support institutions, federal agencies, a lot of innovative companies growing up, free thinking technological development, a lot of interaction... I'm a very multi-discipline oriented person. An engineer can't be an island, I believe that our success lies with breaking down traditional barriers, and working as a team.

And I don't mean that only within UL's campus between departments and colleges, but I also mean between campuses. We have a lot of really neat initiatives going one with the LSU Agriculture Center, Tulane and UNO. That makes us stronger in numbers. When I look at a competitor for a grant, I don't look at a Tech or an LSU or a McNeese, I look at Texas, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech. They have a lot more than we do, but I'm not going to say that they're smarter than us. I think we can out-sell them and we can out-think them. But they have a lot more, so there's strength in numbers. I think in Louisiana, for our research universities to get ahead, we need multiple major institutions, not a single one. Multiple institutions need to partner and stack our resources together head to head against states such as Florida, Texas, New York and California. And we can win this race. There's something about southern culture, particularly southern Louisiana culture-- we can out-sell, we can out- think, we can out-innovate, we can compete globally.

Talk about Lafayette as compared to other Louisiana cultures.

Well, they all have their pros and cons. I look at Louisiana, I look at the Deep South, and it's amazing what we've done. But if you look at the mixed culture, there's a reason that Lafayette is such an attractive city and so economically vibrant. And that's because the melting pot we have here is so vibrant. I think of it as a gumbo, and we've got one helluva gumbo here that started with one helluva roux.

In fact, we're putting together a giving campaign for the College, and the first fund we've come up with is the "Roux Fund". And that's because a successful college is like a gumbo, you put in a lot of good things that are even better when they come together. But the foundation, the thing that starts that pot off, is t he roux. So the Roux Fund is going to be the basis of a great gumbo.

The biggest threat we have is Joe Abraham (smiles).

Yeah, that's what Ray Authément says. So you have all these things you're working on, what are the three tangible goals you have for your College?

One is to improve our fabulous undergraduate program. In education there is always room for innovation and improvement. We'll always have an absolutely world-class undergraduate program. I'm not a believer that you're either graduate program & research, or you're undergraduate; I believe you can have your cake, and eat it too. There are a lot of good examples of that, the University of Texas, Georgia Tech, and that's the direction we're going to take. So taking care of our undergraduates, producing world-class engineers, is our first priority.

Second is to grow the graduate program. And absolutely the most important thing we need is a PhD program in Engineering. That is absolutely critical. Today, so much innovation, so many national grants, the way so many companies view a community, are in many cases based on the importance placed on PhD programs.

And the third goal?

That would be to increase the contact and interaction between the University and our regional industries. There are two types of research, basic research and applied research. Our goal for basic research is to produce research of an international appeal. Our goal for applied research is to produce research of regional appeal. And that's how economic development occurs. You have the basic research going on to get global appeal, and get companies interested in coming to Acadiana, and then you support them with your applied research. It's a wonderful formula.

UL is one of the lowest-funded institutions in the country. And we've done miracles with that. We as a community, as a region, as a state, need to stand up and support higher ed, and realize how good our meager investment has been for this College and this University. Let's step up now with a little money, and let them really do something great.

To continue reading about Dr. Zappi, his work with biofuels and bioprocesses, and how his skills in the area are helping him assemble a very strong research team at UL, click here.