John English has been dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville since July 1, 2013. English was born and raised in Prairie Grove, where he graduated from high school in 1976.
English has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his master’s in operations research from the University of Arkansas. He earned his doctorate in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
He was on the faculty of the UA Department of Industrial Engineering from 1991 to 2007 and head of the department from 2000 to 2007. English was named dean of Kansas State University’s College of Engineering in 2007, leaving that post to return to UA in 2013.
The College of Engineering had nearly 3,400 undergraduate and nearly 1,000 graduate students enrolled in the fall of 2017.
How did you become interested in engineering?
I was sitting at my grandparents’ home on Wedington Drive, and I watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon. I decided then to be an engineer. I didn’t know much about engineering then, but if engineers pulled off that feat, I was all in!
How can the university encourage and recruit more women and minorities to pursue engineering? How is the university doing on this initiative?
As we say at the university, we recruit “one student at a time.” Regardless of the prospective student’s demographic, racial or gender backgrounds, we aggressively recruit. We are in high schools recruiting, and we have countless summer camps from grade school to high school across the area. When prospects come to campus to learn more about us, we roll out the red carpet and let them know we want them to be a U of A engineer.
It is a complex dashboard to recruit and graduate a student body that looks like the state of Arkansas and the nation. Now 22 percent of our students are underrepresented minorities and 24 percent are women. Our student body has doubled in 10 years, and the number of women and underrepresented minorities has multiplied by two to three. Furthermore, our freshman class does looks a lot like the state of Arkansas. First-generation college students and women comprise more than 50 percent of our first-year student body.
How can engineering innovation change the world?
Look around you. Electric vehicles, smartphones, roads, bridges, traffic flow, artificial hips, electricity, knee replacements, cures for cancer, clean water, waste systems, alarm clocks, smart TVs, pharmaceutical drugs, aircraft, spaceships, online shopping, data analytics, high-speed internet, 4K graphics, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning … the list goes on for pages. Engineering and the advancement of science change lives. They make life better and safer.
Is there is a next big thing in engineering and how is the university positioning itself?
The College of Engineering is world-class in electronics, energy, biomedical and health care engineering, material science and engineering, and transportation and logistics. We are making high-impact, deep contributions in these fields, and we are part of defining the future in these areas. We do this by having and recruiting the finest professors, graduate students and undergraduate students.
The department’s enrollment is growing. What opportunities does this create? What obstacles?
We have more than doubled the enrollment in our undergraduate program alone in 10 years. Such super growth creates certain stresses in the college, from building and classroom space to the size of our classes. Through the support of the central administration, we have added space and are adding new professors. For example, we have added almost 15 percent more professors in four years. Also, such tremendous growth makes it exciting to be a part of the college right now.