Interim Dean John Coulter takes on position as the search for permanent dean continues on for a second year

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After the previous dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering, David Wu, left Lehigh in 2014, there was an extensive pursuit to appoint someone new. Yet, when the school year came to a close, no one had been selected.

John Coulter, a longtime member of the Lehigh community, was then approached to take on the interim role as the search was prolonged. He gladly accepted.

Coulter was appointed as interim dean on July 1, 2015, as the search for a permanent dean continues.

While Coulter has a widespread list of duties as interim dean, he does not necessarily have a paramount role in selecting his successor. A committee has been chosen on behalf of the university, which also includes a professional firm to aid in the process.

Once this committee makes a decision on a group of finalists, the search will be made more public as the front-runners visit campus. At this point in the process, Coulter and his colleagues will have an opportunity to meet the candidates, as well as have certain input going forward. Prior to that point, Coulter and his colleagues will stay uninvolved in the committee’s initial search process.

Though he may not have a chief role in the search, Coulter does have various ideas about the type of figure that should come into office. He imagines a dean that encourages faculty to partake in current technology, research and innovation.

John Coulter has been appointed interim dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science effective Jul.1, 2015. The search for someone to fill the position permanently continues into a second year. (Courtesy of the Lehigh University website)

John Coulter has been appointed interim dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science effective Jul.1, 2015. The search for someone to fill the position permanently continues into a second year. (Courtesy of the Lehigh University website)

“The new dean must truly believe in a sense of shared community, in a sense of inclusiveness and that together we can achieve this enhanced college and university,” Coulter said. “They must be innovative, creative and a risk taker. Educated and informed risk is a good thing, that’s how the real world advances, we (the Lehigh community) have to be game changers.”

As for others in the Lehigh community, most are awaiting the changes to come. Vienna Figliolini, ’17, an engineering student, anticipates having new and more permanent leadership in the engineering school.

“I’m looking forward to having someone that understands the students and can truly get to know the wants and needs of engineering undergraduates,” she said.

Coulter said that when students see their professors try to build upon their knowledge and apply it in the world, it’s an important learning experience.

Michael Miller, ’17, an IDEAS major, said the new dean must emphasize the importance of sustainable development in the college.

“I think sustainable development is going to be at the forefront of the global economy as we enter the workforce and even further into our careers,” he said. “It’s the most important problem we have to tackle in the immediate future.”

As a professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, Coulter has an extensive background in both teaching and conducting research on undergraduate and graduate levels. He emphasizes the importance of continuing his research while in the position of interim dean, and hopes to set an example for students who hope to be in the field of engineering one day. His current project is a start-up business through a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow grant.

As for his interim position, Coulter is firm in the fact that it is an impermanent job. While he was happy to serve his Lehigh community when they needed him, Coulter misses aspects of being a professor.

He explained that there are multiple roles that give him an overarching sense of accomplishment and contribution, and the dean’s job is one of them. However, there is less direct contact in helping students.

He said his profession is special because as a professor, one can impact the lives of people in a way that wouldn’t necessarily happen while working in science or developing the latest and greatest products.

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