Wepfer is New Chair of Mechanical Engineering

College of Engineering Dean Don Giddens has announced that Professor William Wepfer will be the new the Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr. Chair of the School of Mechanical Engineering (ME), effective Jan. 1. Wepfer replaces the retired Ward Winer, who started as an associate professor at Georgia Tech in 1969.

"The school chair is responsible for creating an outstanding learning environment. Ward did a great job; words cannot express how much I learned from him," said Wepfer, who worked with Winer from 1989 to 2002 when he served as the associate chair for Graduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering. "I look forward to working with Don Giddens," Wepfer said. "He's been a colleague through the years."

While Wepfer is quick to point out ME's accolades, he says the school, along with the Institute as a whole, needs to continue creating more opportunities. "While Tech has been a leader, other folks copy what we do, so we can't stay still."

Some initial projects on Wepfer's agenda include growing the graduate programs and focusing on energy initiatives, as well as building a cohesive school identity amid forging new collaborative elements.

"The Woodruff School is doing some great things," he said. "We're attracting so many students. We need to focus on quality and not quantity. In the science, engineering and computing arenas, we have to focus on [fostering] a collegial and creative environment." He says that within the school there is some discussion on more flexibility in the curriculum, allowing for classes outside of the major. "We are supportive of lifelong learning-providing an education that leaves students wanting more."

With his own research interests consisting of thermal systems, heat transfer and thermodynamics with an emphasis on energy systems, Wepfer seeks to explore how the school can focus on the area of energy research and increase its role in the Institute's Strategic Energy Initiative.

One example is the nuclear engineering program, which he says is the second largest body of nuclear engineering students in the country. "We [also] have a strong group in ME that's performing research to improve efficiency in systems," he said. "I hope to engage and grow our faculty in these areas where we can make a difference."

Another school strength Wepfer identifies is one germane to the Institute-partnerships. Strong collaboration is already prevalent with the schools of Physics, Chemistry and Biology and the College of Computing. The goal, he says, is for ME to expand on these contributions. "Engineering, science and computing are all starting to blur. [On the research level] we are all starting to ask the same questions."

When asked about any rivalry between engineering programs, Wepfer smiled. "The College is very special," he said. "There's always been a unique kinship-you compete, but you're in the same family. I'm [ready] to work with other school chairs and faculty."

Another role he's prepared to assume is that of fund-raiser as the Institute nears the public phase of its capital campaign.

"Building and growing the endowments-for faculty chairs and students' scholarships-are important. It's all about relationships and [their] stewardship," adding that Tech alumni as a whole are loyal and generous. He smiled as he said, "I look forward to working with graduates I had as students."

Wepfer's career at Tech began in 1980 as an assistant professor in mechanical engineering. He became a full professor in 1993. Since 2003, he has served as vice provost of Distance Learning and Professional Education (DLPE). In this capacity, Wepfer was responsible for professional education and distance-delivered programs, the English as a Second Language program and operation of the Global Learning Center.

"Coming to DLPE was really challenging," Wepfer said, referring to the tech market's downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "It has given me a deeper understanding of how Georgia Tech operates."

Wepfer said he doesn't doubt the department's capabilities without him. "The future of the DLPE is bright," he said. "The team I'm leaving is very capable."

A representative from the Office of the Provost said an interim DLPE director would soon be named, with a full search for a replacement beginning early next year.

In all, he says he is glad to be back and involved in the daily interaction with faculty and students. "At the end of the day, I'm a faculty member," he says. While he would like to teach again, he says he prefers to first gain his bearings as school chair. "When I was associate chair, I taught," he said. "And I think it's important for a school chair to maintain a connection with the students. I will be broadly engaged."

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

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