One of the fascinating things about a University is the teeming, amoeboid dynamism of the place. There are powerful, brilliant, enthusiastic people pulling the citadel in all directions of human study: arts, letters, sciences and applied disciplines. So for a rapidly rising University with constrained resources, the question becomes 'Where is the low-hanging fruit? What should we focus on first?' After thinking about it for several years, I think we should focus on engineering.

A disclaimer: the Dean of Engineering is a good friend, and we get together on a frequent basis. Having said that, he did not encourage me to write this, and most of the ideas here are mine, although obviously some of our conversations informed my thinking.

Beyond that, I'm a biologist, and biology interests me more than engineering. More interesting than either of those, however, are the letters, particularly foreign languages. If I could hang around Georgia Tech's engineering and biology programs, or Michigan's department of foreign languages, I'd choose the latter.

I support engineering because I think it's the quickest way to build UL all across the campus, and the quickest way to build Lafayette, Acadiana, and Louisiana.

The first reason for my opinion is the calibre of students in engineering. There is a joke in medicine, "What do you call the person who graduates last in his medical school class?


Part of the humor here is that the 'worst' student in medical school is still a very bright student. It is only in comparison to his even brighter classmates that a doctor could be dubbed academically ‘inferior’.

The same thing can be said about engineers. With the exception of the hard sciences, the weakest engineering graduate is brighter than the average student in most other disciplines. As a consequence, when those stronger engineering students enroll they advance the average entrance metrics on campus, which will boost UL in the national rankings (vide infra). They will also raise the bar in all of the courses they take, and elevate the level of scholarship across the University.

The second reason is closely tied to the first. The students who find that they can’t cut it in engineering are generally still very strong students, and so they strengthen whatever majors they transfer into. Engineering freshman have some of the highest graduation rates on campus, whether they finish in engineering or not.

The third reason is the collateral recruiting effect engineering produces. As UL's ascending engineering program recruits more and better students, particularly from high schools which have not traditionally sent many graduates our way, we should enjoy some nice viral marketing. The fact that a strong student with a number of options chooses UL will make classmates, teachers and parents take a second look at us.

Fourth, engineering is critical to our research efforts. The 'Big 3' in research funding are medicine, agriculture and engineering. The NIRC gives us a very nice toe in the door for medical research, and we are always looking to expand that. But on the main campus, engineering is the one discipline that can quickly boost our research profile, while generating a nice overhead for the University overall.  With that, engineering's current push into biofuels gets us into agricultural research.