Dr. Farvardin and took office as the 7th president of Stevens Institute of Technology in July 2011. With a little over a year under his belt, we caught up with Dr. Farvardin to discuss Stevens’ future, living in Hoboken, and the state of education.
You spent 27 years at the University of Maryland, College Park, which has 27,000 undergraduate students and 11,000 graduate students. That’s a much larger institution than Steven Institute of Technology. What do you like most about working in a smaller school?
There are two distinct differences that I have found particularly attractive about Stevens’ smaller size. First, Stevens is like a family. Faculty, staff, and students know and care about each other. It is easier to get to know the members of the campus on a first-name basis—to have meaningful conversations about the future. Second, because of its smaller size, Stevens is agile, dynamic, and non-bureaucratic. It can react to challenges and respond to opportunities far more rapidly than larger, more bureaucratic institutions.
What have you found most challenging?
Because of Stevens’ relatively smaller size, we must be disciplined in choosing the types of education and research programs we will build. There are many interesting problems an institution like Stevens—with its strong technological foundations—could tackle. We need to select and pursue areas in which we can have a distinctive and differentiating impact. Therefore, all of our education programs, even those in the College of Arts and Letters and in our business school, have a strong technology core.
We must continue to invest our time and resources in the highest priority areas for our state and our nation requires ongoing attention and focus. Remaining focused on providing a comprehensive, yet technology-centered, program is a key strategic priority for us.
What goals do you have for Stevens? Where would you like to see Stevens in 10 years?
We’ve just completed an intense strategic planning process—lasting nearly 10 months—that substantially engaged many, many members of our campus community, our alumni, and our industry partners. This process has resulted in a vision and a very ambitious, but achievable, plan that will propel our university into a leadership position through our technology-centric education and research programs.
In 10 years, Stevens will be an internationally-renowned technological university with its graduates and research making a significant impact on our society. Building on our current strengths, Stevens will educate technology innovators and problem-solvers who will lead in addressing some of our nation’s most pressing problems and who will make an impact in dynamic and growing industries, such as health care and medicine; sustainable energy; financial systems; defense and security, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
Stevens has been in the news a lot lately—all good things. Can you tell us about some of them?
A few months ago, Bloomberg Businessweek placed Stevens among the top 25 universities in the country for the return on investment, and Wall Street and Technology put Stevens in the list of ten best science and technology universities. The university’s reputation is on the rise!
We launched our Financial Systems Center, the Hanlon Financial Systems Lab, in April 2012. A brand new master’s program in Business Analytics and Intelligence is generating unprecedented interest by students and corporations. Our students and faculty are in the midst of designing and building our second Solar House to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Competition in October 2013. And a number of student-faculty groups are working hard on developing apps for broadband networks in response to the FCC Chairman Genachowski’s and Senator Lautenberg’s New Jersey Apps Challenge.
We have just reorganized the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and expect significant new developments, leading to technology transfer and licensing agreements and new start-ups.
Our high-school summer programs experienced a 57% growth over the previous summer; and in September we welcomed the largest and most academically talented freshman class in the history of the university.
And one last thing, we just reported our FY12 fundraising efforts that represented a 189% growth over the previous year. And that’s just the beginning.
Everyone has something to say about the state of our education system these days. Would you like to weigh in?
Well, I have a lot to say, and could go on all day. Let me say this: first, our K-12 system—while there are pockets of excellence—needs to be overhauled to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be productive citizens. Many of the jobs that our current generation of K-12 students will hold do not even exist today! We need to develop students who are adaptive, creative problem solvers who have a strong technological foundation. Technology underlies almost every aspect of our life—from our communications devices and household appliances, to the ways we secure our physical and cyber infrastructure. Yet, much of schooling is not about developing these types of capabilities.
Second, there is growing misalignment between what the country needs in its educated workforce and what our universities produce. One may argue that the free enterprise system will fix the problem in the long run, but I am afraid we need to intervene sooner.
If you were attending Stevens as a student, what class would you be most excited to attend?
I haven’t been at Stevens long enough to answer this question with certainty. But, I find our design spine (an eight-semester experiential learning sequence in which students develop physical prototypes and products) and the senior design project most intriguing. If I had the time, I would have signed up for three sections of this course simultaneously!
I love the Stevens tagline ‘The Innovation University”. It might be hard to pick just one, but tell us about your favorite technology innovation?
Probably the iPhone, if I were to pick just one; it’s the perfect example of how innovation occurs. Steve Jobs and Apple brilliantly integrated a number of technologies that had been invented and developed over the years—wireless networks, microelectronics, computing, digital music, advanced display, digital photography, voice recognition—into one product that simplifies life, is elegant, and for which there was a clear need in the market place.
Hoboken NJ is a far cry from College Park MD. What’s your favorite thing about living in Hoboken, and in NJ, so far?
I find life in Hoboken most stimulating and rejuvenating. Hoboken is a vibrant city with a lot of energy and a diverse mix of young professionals, students, and long-time residents. Also, it has history, culture, wonderful restaurants, a beautiful waterfront and views and when my wife and I venture into New York City, it’s quick and easy. We really love it here!