More Universities Pick Engineers as Provosts, Including ISU, U of I

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Two engineers this fall will oversee academics at the state’s two largest universities, and that can only mean good things for the governor’s efforts to strengthen education in science and technology, Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass said.

Iowa State University this month named its College of Engineering dean, Jonathan Wickert, as provost. The move comes a year after the University of Iowa appointed its engineering dean, Barry Butler, to the same job.

Gov. Terry Branstad has stressed the need to improve education in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. Last week, a STEM advisory board Wickert serves on established six regional hubs, including at ISU and Drake University, to promote education and awareness in those areas of study.

U of I and ISU officials said expertise in a STEM field was not required when searching for and selecting a provost, a job called chief academic officer at some institutions. Butler, for instance, called it a coincidence that he and Wickert are engineers, and emphasized that as provost he will focus on a broad array of academic disciplines.

But as the state tries to stimulate job growth on the heels of a national economic recession, Glass said it makes sense that the universities would find a background in engineering appealing.

“One of the purposes of education is to deliver people with skills they need to be successful in the workforce,” Glass said. “If you look at the industries in Iowa, they are primarily in STEM fields.”

Iowa’s universities are not alone in looking to administrators with STEM backgrounds to lead their academic efforts. The same week ISU named Wickert provost, the University of Illinois named its College of Engineering dean to the same job.

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