Four Questions for Sharon Wood: UT’s First Female Dean of Engineering

As tWood, Sharon, 2013, civil, architectural, environmental engineeringhe Alcalde reported last month, Cockrell School of Engineering Dean Greg Fenves is moving on up to provost—leaving the Cockrell School with big shoes to fill.

Today the University announced that they will be filled, if only temporarily, by earthquake expert and department chair Sharon Wood.

Wood, who will serve as interim dean for a year while the school searches nationwide for a new dean, has already made UT history once as the first female chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. Now she will do it again on Oct. 1, when she officially becomes the first female dean of the Cockrell School.

What’s your first priority as interim dean?

Moving forward with the EERC [Engineering Education and Research Center]. There was a request in the Legislature this session for a TRB [tuition revenue bond], but it didn’t get funded.

I will say I’m confident we’ll get it done. There’s a lot of planning and logistics ahead of us. The EERC is really crucial to the future of the Cockrell School.

Not all faculty members choose to step up in administration. Why did you do it?

A few years ago UT put out a gender equity task force report, and a lack of women in administrative positions was a key conclusion from that. So I view this as an opportunity. When I was a student, I had only one female professor in all my undergraduate and graduate education. Today our department is 20 percent female. It’s a slow process, but we are changing people’s expectations. I think it’s a lot easier for students to see themselves having successful engineering careers when they see more women in these positions.

Why did you become an engineer?

Well, I’m a fourth-generation civil engineer. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all civil engineers. When I was about 8 years old, my dad took me to a construction site where he was working. I walked around with him and watched the building going up, and that was it—right then I decided I wanted to be an engineer.

Back then almost every single woman I met in engineering had gone into it because someone in her family was an engineer. Today many of my students choose engineering because they know it’s a strong career path.

What do you do for fun?

I ride my bicycle! This summer I biked across the Alps. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had.

Photo by Marsha Miller (University of Texas at Austin).

 

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