Role of Pratt's Board of Visitors

By Edward M. ReefeChair, Pratt Board of Visitors

With its beginning more than two decades ago, the Board of Visitors at the Pratt School of Engineering has long served in an advisory role to the dean on matters of fundraising, academic curriculum, and student life. Like many of the university’s other Boards of Visitors, the Pratt Board’s role and composition has evolved and expanded over the years as needs arose. Today the board is comprised of over 50 engineering alumni (Class of ‘44 to ‘87) as well as several non-alumni members with a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds including engineering, medicine, law, architecture, academics, finance, business, civil service, and the military.

In 1983, Dean Earl Dowell convened a group of prominent Duke Engineering School alumni including Ed Pratt, Jerry Hudson, “Spike” Yoh, Jim Vincent, Gary Dickinson, Jim Corrigan, and Bob Garda, to name but a few, to form a fundraising committee to assist in the building of the Nello Teer Library. At that time the group was known as the “Dean’s Council.” After the successful completion of the library it was decided to retain the council not only to advise the dean on future fundraising issues, but also on the myriad of other academic and student life issues that had to be addressed on a regular basis. Each of the above alumni has served with distinction as chairman of the council over the intervening years.

In April 2000, it was decided to consolidate the Dean’s Council with another group of corporate/industrial advisors to the dean known as the Board of Visitors then chaired by Bob Timmins, which for many years had been functioning parallel to the Dean’s Council. The combined group from that time forward has been known as the “Board of Visitors” so as to be in line with the terminology utilized by the other schools within the university. Under the thoughtful direction of recent past Chairmen Gary Gerst and Tom Woodard, the board has evolved into the multi-functional organization that it is today.

The purpose of the board is to provide support and foster the achievement of excellence in all aspects of the school. It is also our goal to serve as a conduit between students, faculty, and the Pratt School and university administrations in addressing the many issues that they face. Likewise we also serve as “ambassadors” for the Pratt School and the university in our respective communities and businesses. We are regularly informed on the issues facing the university and the school. It is our intent to make our views heard by the university policy makers. The success of Duke University and the Pratt School of Engineering matters greatly to each of us as involved members of the University’s larger community. We accomplish our duties by proactive commitment to the following activities as stated in the BOV by-laws:

1) Advising and supporting the dean of the school.

2) Establishing board Committees which review and monitor key areas of focus for the School

3) Securing and providing funds for important programs and needs of the school

4) Reviewing and support the school's Strategic and Long Range Plan

5) Reporting to the university on the status and needs of the school

The board is limited to 60 members composed primarily of alumni. Up to 15% of our membership can be non-alumni if their experience and achievements will enhance the board’s ability to achieve its purpose. All members are selected based upon a demonstration of professional achievement in fields of importance to the school, an indication of a commitment to the school through service and financial support, and the enhancement of the balance of the board’s breadth and diversity. Board members participate on a four-year term basis with one term renewal possible before a member must step down for at least one year. Meetings are convened twice a year at the school.

Over the years the board has gone far beyond its initial, primary function of fundraising. Currently we have seven standing committees with defined functions as follow:

1) Membership Committee (Co-Chairperson Norm Cocke BSEE ‘68)--The committee reviews and makes recommendations to the board and to the co-chairperson, Dean Kristina Johnson, regarding the status of current members and well as nominees for membership.

2) Development Committee (Co-Chairperson Jerry Wilkinson BSEE ‘67)--The committee coordinates all fundraising and philanthropic efforts with the co-chairperson, Judge Carr, associate dean and director of development. As a group and individually the board has historically been the source of significant funding for the school and well as serving as a liaison between the school and other potential philanthropic individual and corporate entities.

3) Student Affairs/Financial Aid/Scholarship Committee (Co-Chairperson Ozey Horton BSE ‘73)--The committee reviews all aspects of student life at the school. Emphasis is placed on direct dialogue with students and faculty regarding curriculum, housing, social issues, career opportunities, employment recruiting, and internships, to name but a few. The committee coordinates with the co-chairperson Linda Franzoni, associate dean for student affairs and co-chairperson Connie Simmons, assistant dean for undergraduate students, to ensure not only that current issues are addressed but that student well being is addressed in the context of the many dynamic changes taking place at the Pratt School.

4) Education Committee (Chairperson Martha Monserrrate McDade BSE ‘81)--The committee aided by co-chairperson Tod Laursen, senior associate dean for education, is focused on three main topics all of which attempt to increase the quality of the students enrolled and the impact that they can have once they leave the university. First, the committee monitors and makes recommendations regarding the development of the professional Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. This recent program is rapidly evolving its diversity of curriculum track specialization under the direction of Jeffrey Glass, director of engineering management and entrepreneurship. The committee works to ensure the MEM expansion is well grounded and ultimately provides a degree suitable to allow students to integrate into the business community. Second, the committee reviews the graduate student professional development program and makes recommendations how resources available to graduate students such as assistance in resume development and the employment interview process can be improved. Third, graduate education curriculum development is reviewed with the school administration and faculty to ensure the maximum breadth of course options while creating an efficient, non-redundant core courses program applicable to all incoming graduate students regardless of their discipline.

5) Industry Relations Committee (Chairperson Jon Guerster BSEE ‘86--Collaborating with Co-Chairperson Russell Holloway, associate dean for industry and corporate relations, the committee‘s objective is to assist in improving communications and in facilitating joint efforts between the business community and the Pratt School of Engineering with respect to student recruiting, internship programs, joint research initiatives, industry mentoring, and grant procurement. The committee recommends ways that the BOV, due to its diversified corporate/industrial makeup, can assist in serving as liaisons to the business community thus advancing the recognition of the school’s many resources and capabilities.

6) Research and Technology Commercialization Committee (Chairperson Alan Kaganov BSME ‘60) The committee works closely with Co-Chairperson Jeffery Glass in his capacity has director of the MEM program to identify, promote, and develop research programs within the Pratt School that have commercial potential. Thus far, the committee has assisted in analyzing numerous research initiatives to determine the most viable candidates for commercial application. The committee also coordinates with Henry Berger, director of licensing and the technology transfer office, in evaluating the feasibility of such research programs including patent implications.

7) Building/Infrastructure Committee (Chairperson Joe Jarboe BSCE ‘69) With the tremendous amount of building expansion happening on campus and in particular the CIEMAS complex at the Pratt School, this committee was formed to monitor and make recommendations to the dean regarding the design, scheduling, and financial status of the project as well as the forthcoming Hudson Hall renovations. The committee meets on a regular basis with the dean, Co-Chairperson Rob Clark, senior associate dean, and Asst. Co-Chairperson Mike Gunter, director of facilities, along with a broad range of design consultants to review progress and offer constructive dialogue based upon the group’s diverse background in the design/construction industries. The committee also advises the dean on the appropriateness of artwork throughout the facility, including the review and recommendation of suitable artisans.

As can be seen by the breadth of activities performed by the Board of Visitors, a tremendous amount of time is dedicated to pursuing each of these efforts. Our semi-annual meetings on campus provide a wonderful opportunity to have the board consolidate their efforts as well as to personally meet with faculty and students to dialogue about issues. Historically our first event each meeting is an informal dinner function with a select group of undergraduate or graduate students to hear their concerns as well as their positive/negative experiences as Pratt students. This format has proven invaluable in gaining an insight into student body issues and potential ways to improve virtually all aspects of academics and student life. These exchanges have aided every committee in their deliberations and have often provided impetus for future initiatives proposed by the BOV.

From a personal perspective, participating as a member of the Board of Visitors offers a wonderful opportunity for engineering alumni and other dedicated volunteers to offer their professional talents and experiences to assist the School in so many ways. Participation on the BOV gives all of us a chance to give back to the School that means so much to each and every one of us.

The Pratt School is evolving at a tremendous rate both academically and physically under the able direction of Dean Kristina Johnson. The vision of the school is also building on the tremendous foundation established by the many past deans including most recently Dean Earl Dowell. To be able to assist the school in this long-standing vision for academic excellence has proven to be a most gratifying experience for all those who have served on the board both past and present. Whether you are a student, alumni, faculty, parent, or friend of the school, we all share in the enormous pride generated by seeing the Pratt School of Engineering attaining and, indeed, frequently surpassing many of its short and long term goals. The future for the school could never be brighter. The possibilities are endless. The Board of Visitors is honored to be a part of the Pratt School “family” all of whom have contributed to the school’s success. We look forward to assisting in whatever way possible in the attainment of future goals knowing with certainty that the infinite possibilities envisioned by the dean and faculty of the Pratt School of Engineering will become the realities of tomorrow.