Thinking BIG: Pratt 2039

In anticipation of our centennial in 2039, the Pratt School of Engineering conducted an aspirational visioning exercise to identify strategic priorities for the decades ahead.

Executive Summary

The Pratt 2039 Steering Committee sought and received input from key stakeholder groups including students, faculty, alumni, staff, leadership across the university, and representatives from industry. The committee concentrated on identifying key actions, processes, and initiatives to advance Pratt’s research enterprise, educational mission, and the culture and societal impact of the School.
  • The committee’s findings fall broadly into eight themes:

    • High-Impact Research
    • Best-in-Class Educational Experience
    • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
    • Meaningful Alumni Relationships
    • Industry Connections & Investments
    • An Outstanding Place to Live and Work
    • Our Physical and Virtual Plant
    • Global Impact and Branding
  • We identified multiple interconnections. Most recommendations draw from a common set of four underlying principles:

    • Think Big—Propose bold, actionable initiatives (“Duke Blue Sky Ideas”)
    • Seek Interdisciplinarity—Leverage our position as part of a world-class, academically diverse university in both research and education
    • Reach Outward—Build outreach and partnerships with alumni and industry to increase societal impact
    • Value Our People—Nurture a culture of diversity and inclusion; provide pathways for careers to flourish

    First, the committee received near-unanimous encouragement from all stakeholders to think big and propose bold, actionable initiatives so that this community visioning effort is not wasted. Thinking big is inherent to several recommendations to undertake major research initiatives (e.g., “Duke Blue Sky Ideas”), extend our emphasis on design and real-world experience throughout our students’ educational experience, and take bold steps to increase our connectivity with our alumni and with industry.

    A second principle with broad consensus is that Pratt should take full advantage of our position as a relatively small engineering school within a great, academically diverse university to enhance our reputation for interdisciplinarity. This led to recommendations that we increase our emphasis on interdisciplinary research initiatives and cross-departmental, multidisciplinary educational experiences.

    Third, many stakeholder comments and suggestions reflect a desire for Pratt to be more outward-facing in the future. This includes both increasing our impact and enhancing our brand, both locally and globally. Recommendations associated with increasing Pratt’s broad societal impact include reducing barriers for faculty exchanges to and from Duke and leveraging connections with our alumni, outstanding regional institutions and companies, and Pratt’s other strategic domestic and international partners to increase student internships, experiential partnerships, and industry collaborations.

    Finally, we recognize that the success of any future initiatives will hinge upon our ability to retain, attract, and recruit students, staff, and faculty who feel valued and that their careers are continually enhanced by their experience. This includes ensuring that Pratt builds a culture of diversity, inclusion, and respect for all community members. It also includes ensuring that all employees have opportunities for career advancement, for example by supporting professional development opportunities for staff and developing stable and attractive career advancement models for non-tenure-track career research and teaching faculty.

    The committee recognizes that the breadth of ideas and initiatives proposed in its report will require substantial additional effort for prioritization; however, we are invigorated by the tremendous opportunities for Pratt which this study identified.

Pratt 2039 graphic with colorful circles and icons


  • The Pratt 2039 Steering Committee was charged in early 2020 by Dean Ravi V. Bellamkonda and the Engineering Faculty Council (EFC) with leading our community in an aspirational visioning exercise with the goal of answering two questions so we can realize our mission of positively impacting society in the decades ahead:

    • How can we best position Duke Engineering to maximize the long-term impacts of our educational programs and research enterprise?
    • Who do we want to be in 2039, as a school and as a community, in service to society?

    The process was intended to have two phases. In the first, the Pratt 2039 Steering Committee worked with members of our community to think big about what Duke Engineering could be when we celebrate our centennial in 2039 and to propose ambitious goals and initiatives that will help us reach that vision. In Phase 2, we will chart our path toward those goals by creating deliberate steps including financial modeling and implementation plans.

  • The committee’s work began in early March 2020. Shortly after the first meeting, Duke issued university-wide work-from-home requirements for all faculty and staff and announced that the remainder of the spring semester would be taught virtually due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. To allow the faculty to adjust to this new and sudden situation, the group’s work was temporarily paused. Work resumed in mid-April and progressed through mid-October, at which time the group delivered its final report to Dean Bellamkonda and EFC Chair Craig Henriquez. A period of community review followed, with opportunities for feedback to be shared both online and at community meetings held through March 2021.

  • The committee outlined a methodology by which they would review data, gain input, and ultimately determine recommendations. First, the committee received presentations from school leaders in the areas of education and research. These presentations provided committee members with baseline data about the school’s past and current performance and reviewed the leadership’s immediate-term goals and objectives in these areas. Next, in order to seek ideas and input from faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members, and other stakeholders, the group held a series of focus groups. These focus groups were designed to ensure that representatives from all engineering units and stakeholder groups had an opportunity to participate in the process. Focus groups were held with tenure-track faculty, other regular rank faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, staff, members of Pratt’s Board of Visitors, and deans of all other Duke Schools. Committee members invited and received input from colleagues in faculty meetings and individual conversations. The committee consulted with leaders of the Engineering Alumni Council (EAC) to better understand the alumni perspective. Finally, the committee underwent more typical strategic planning activities including preparing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities, Threats) analysis, participating in a long-term visioning exercise, and identifying broad themes and specific recommendations for achieving that vision.

The Committee

Dean Bellamkonda and Craig Henriquez, EFC Chair, formed the Pratt 2039 Steering Committee with input from the Department Chairs. Membership was intended to be representative across departments, ranks, and fields as well as gender and background. The Pratt 2039 Steering Committee members included:

  • Joseph Izatt, Chair
    Michael J. Fitzpatrick Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Edmund T. School of Engineering
  • Ana Barros
    Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. School Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Ken Brown
    Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Warren Grill
    Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Lisa Huettel
    Professor of the Practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Christine Payne
    Yoh Family Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
  • Guillermo Sapiro
    James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • David Schaad
    Professor of the Practice of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Tatiana Segura
    Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Michael Zavlanos
    Yoh Family Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

The following Pratt School of Engineering staff members provided invaluable support to the committee:

  • Susan Bonifield
    Senior Associate Dean, Finance and Administration
  • Nick Everage
    Executive Assistant to the Dean
  • Deb Wojcik
    Managing Director, Graduate Student Programs & Services
  • Pratt Communications & Marketing Team