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Thursday, April 15, 2021


Dean looking to improve research

College of Engineering Dean Joseph Tedesco says he enjoys his job, particularly because he gets to work with young students who are eager to learn. | Steven Oster/Houstonian yearbook

When UH reached out to Joseph Tedesco to be dean of the Cullen College of Engineering in 2007, Tedesco admittedly didn’t give the request much attention.

As an accomplished professor and chairman at the University of Florida, he had helped build the undergraduate engineering program a national top-ten ranking and didn’t intend to leave.

“I had received and declined similar requests from other universities. But (UH) was persistent and they finally persuaded me to come out for a visit,” Tedesco said.

Tedesco said the campus setting and the potential to build a program to match the already prosperous engineering community in Houston impressed him. Tedesco soon began his tenure as the sixth dean of the Cullen College of Engineering in January 2008.

Among Tedesco’s top priorities is improving the college to help the University achieve flagship status.

In his two years as dean, Tedesco has doubled the college’s research spending, approved a new degree program in petroleum engineering and created the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the college’s first new department in 35 years. Next fall, a new honors engineering program will be offered.

“For Houston to continue being one of the best cities in the world is dependent on UH becoming (a flagship school),” Tedesco said. “We’re improving our academic and research programs, recruiting better faculty and students and building a stronger relationship with the community. These are all incremental victories that will get us to (flagship).”

Tedesco admits these goals are harder to obtain as the University continues to tighten its budget. To ease the effects of the cuts, Tedesco said he and Provost John Antel are exploring ways other than tuition increases to generate revenue.

Tedesco said among these tactics are partnerships with the private sector, where the college will share facilities and work on common research interests with the Texas Medical Center and local energy companies.

Tedesco said finding creative ways around the budget cuts is a difficult but essential part of his job.

“The University has to find another way to operate. You can’t continue to raise tuition as it only pays a small part of our expenditures. We have to be more creative and not put the burden on the students,” he said.

Despite the financial constraints, Tedesco continues to draft new goals for the college, including a new $30 million engineering building that he hopes will include “high-tech classrooms and space for engineering’s 22 great student organizations.

“Enrollment has grown 28 percent in just two years, but our space hasn’t. Unfortunately, they’re relegated to the engineering laboratory, which frankly is an embarrassment, and our students deserve better,” Tedesco said. “One of my biggest priorities is getting rid of that building and getting them a (flagship) building.”

To complete the project, Tedesco said fundraising and public relations have become an increasingly important part of his job, a far cry from his days as a professor.

Tedesco began his career in academia in 1982 at Oregon State University before stopping at Auburn University and the United States Air Force Research Laboratories, among others.

While acknowledging the importance of the work he does now, Tedesco said that those days were his favorite.

“I love working with young people because they don’t have preconceived notions about how things should be. They’re just full of optimism, are eager to learn, then earn their degree and change the world,” Tedesco said.

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