The field of education is where the journey begins to develop outstanding individuals who can shape a better future. And to nurture such individuals, we need great teachers. We recently had the chance to interview one such teacher, Arvind Raman, the Dean of Purdue University’s College of Engineering. He is a remarkable educator with a vision for a brighter future. Moreover, he is skilled at bringing people together and guiding them to do their best. What motivates him the most is the positive impact leaders can make, and he is dedicated to making that impact at his own alma mater to help improve society.
Arvind’s Career Trajectory from India to the USA
Arvind’s journey impresses. He started with a BS degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and then pursued an MS in mechanical engineering at Purdue. This journey began almost three decades ago. Furthering his education, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of California. Between 2000 and 2014, he actively taught, conducted research, and engaged with students at Purdue’s College of Engineering. Unexpectedly, Arvind’s career shifted to leadership. He took on roles in global engineering, academic affairs, and both undergraduate and graduate education. Ultimately, on April 1, 2023, he became dean, a role that allowed him to significantly broaden the college’s impact. Additionally, Arvind notes, “I remain the Robert V. Adams Professor in Mechanical Engineering and, by courtesy, Professor of Materials Engineering.”
When asked about his inspiration and role model, Arvind unquestionably cites it to his mother. He says, “My mother has been my greatest and earliest role model. As a chemistry teacher, she sparked my childhood interest in STEM. Her intelligence, confidence, and curiosity remain major influences.”
Foundation of Purdue University: An Institute of Excellence and Innovation
John Purdue established Purdue University in 1869 in West Lafayette, Indiana, as a renowned public research institution. Initially founded as a public college focused on science, technology, and agriculture, the university achieved significant excellence.
The College of Engineering, dating back to 1874, stands as Purdue’s largest academic unit. In 1874, the university president introduced four-year courses in civil and mechanical engineering, starting in the spring of 1875. Currently, the college offers a comprehensive range of academic programs, including BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees across 14 disciplines. These disciplines include aeronautics and astronautics, agricultural and biological engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, construction engineering and management, electrical and computer engineering, engineering education, environmental and ecological engineering, industrial engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, and nuclear engineering.
The college hosts pioneering programs such as Semiconductors @ Purdue, Engineering Honors Program, Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP), First-Year Engineering (FYE), Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (SURF), Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships (GEPP), Minority Engineering Program (MEP), Professional Practice (co-op) Program, and Women in Engineering (WiE) Program.
Promoting a Flexible and Inclusive Education System
When comparing Purdue University’s engineering college with others, it distinguishes itself in several ways. It holds the distinction of being the largest engineering college ever ranked in the top 4 of U.S. News & World Report, benefiting from its substantial scale. With undergraduate enrollment exceeding the combined figures of the three top engineering colleges, it presents a respected, affordable, and highly ranked option. Notably, flexibility is a defining feature. The concept of “year to choose” enables undergraduates to explore different pathways during their first year, preventing them from feeling locked into an unsuitable major. Purdue’s engineering college is nationally ranked at #7 for co-ops and internships, underscoring its emphasis on practical readiness.
The institution’s approach to experiential learning sets it apart. Embracing the philosophy of “Learn by Doing,” Purdue integrates undergraduate research, global experiences, EPICS (a service-learning design program), VIP (Vertically Integrated Projects), and student organizations to foster practical learning. Speaking about the institution’s inclusivity, Arvind highlights, “We offer a safe, welcoming, diverse community. Regarding research, what’s special about our college is our highly collaborative environment, with great facilities and top-notch faculty, including 37 past and present NAE members and 14 National Academy of Inventors fellows; a dozen $10 million+ research centers; and world-class alumni.”
Leadership Anchored in Support for Excelling in Practical Skill Development
When asked about his core responsibilities as a Dean, Arvind clarified, “The dean of Purdue’s College of Engineering is responsible for envisioning, motivating, removing roadblocks, and enabling the success of others. He focuses on assisting faculty with significant funding opportunities, facilitating experiential learning for students, promoting student health and well-being, and developing cutting-edge concentrations and minors.”
Furthermore, he addressed the changing education landscape and evolving student needs. He remarked, “To address the needs of a diverse range of learners, including working professionals, we have established a variety of highly ranked online opportunities that are both affordable and convenient. Our offerings range from degree programs to professional courses and certificates.”
The institution places significant importance on experiential learning to meet the demand for practical skills. The institution took the lead in introducing the first comprehensive semiconductor degree program in the United States. Additionally, it spearheads the Scalable Asymmetric Lifecycle Engagement (SCALE) workforce development program, funded by the DOD, which supports the growth of the nation’s microelectronics industry to address the creation of 50,000 new jobs.
The college provides robust support to students, aligning with their growing interest in entrepreneurship. The John Martinson Entrepreneurial Center and the Silicon Valley Business Innovation Group (SVBIG) stand as two valuable resources. Arvind highlighted pioneering programs, stating, “Our college is committed to creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. We initiated the Women in Engineering (WiE) Program and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and we continuously forge new pathways for all to excel.” Additionally, collaborations such as the partnership with the historically Black university Morgan State underscore a dedication to broader inclusivity.
Addressing Issues in the Education System
Arvind possesses a significant vision and forecasts challenge the higher education system will confront in the near future. He asserts, “Academia is having to deal with the demographic phenomenon called the ’enrollment cliff,’ meaning the college-age population will shrink beginning in 2025. This is a time when we as a nation need many more engineers, not fewer.”
Living Life Beyond Work
Maintaining a balanced life can be challenging, especially when holding a prominent career role. Nonetheless, it remains essential to nurture specific hobbies and take regular breaks to adapt to the evolving environment. Arvind holds a position that involves monitoring multiple demanding factors that can lead to exhaustion. Yet he consistently discovers strategies to alleviate this and dedicates time to relishing moments. When he seeks solace away from the bustling surroundings, he opts for hiking. Additionally, he integrates jogging, cooking, and gardening into his routine to invigorate his mind.