Published: Dec. 30, 2019 By

[Editor's note: An abridged version of this blog ran in the December 25th edition of the Boulder Daily Camera]

At our Winter Commencement Ceremony this month, nearly 500 engineering students crossed the graduation stage, poised to become a force for good across our nation and world. More than 1,000 more will join these December graduates in May. 

As dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, I have had the honor of recognizing the accomplishments of these students on behalf of the University of Colorado Boulder. This is a moment I cherish – one filled with pride for their accomplishments, but just as importantly, a moment steeped in the knowledge that these students will have lasting positive impact on our world. 

I am proud of each of these students, but equally thankful for the cross-campus partnerships that have enabled them to become versatile individuals that will thrive in both engineering and life. The experiences that prepare these young adults for productive futures are fuller and richer than one college alone can offer. This is the true benefit of studying engineering at a broad-based public university like CU Boulder. Not only do we offer a top-notch engineering education, but we do so on a campus teeming with next-generation artists, composers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, reporters, lawyers and economists. I am grateful for the staff and faculty across campus who work diligently with my students and thank them for sharing their students with our college. 

This winter's graduates have earned a 21st century engineering degree – one steeped in the domain knowledge required to impact our technological world, but which also benefits from the broad character of our university and the interdisciplinary manner in which we approach our educational mission. A diploma from CU Boulder, our state’s flagship university, signifies that these graduates are more than just technical experts prepared for the challenges of engineering. They are well-rounded citizens entering a global society who have been shaped by experiences and perspectives gained across our entire campus. Their skills and approaches have been honed by faculty members, staff and peers in engineering, but also in business, education, the social sciences, the humanities, arts and music. 

They’ve interacted with government and industry leaders who have shared their life experiences. They’ve learned to collaborate and experiment through team design courses, and through unique experiences like Hip Hop for Engineers or Engineers Without Borders. They’ve learned to manage their time by juggling a challenging academic schedule while playing NCAA sports or performing in the Golden Buffalo marching band (the majority of whose members are engineers). They have learned the value of diverse teams through interdisciplinary organizations like Out in STEM and Women in Science and Engineering, and are developing global awareness as they study abroad in record numbers. 

Today’s engineering students are exploring policy, law, communications, and business to prepare and respond to a future we can’t predict. Many gain an entrepreneurship, leadership or management minor to go with their technical, hands-on skillset. Students from other colleges are similarly choosing to expand their educational experience, gaining technical knowledge through the computer science, technology or maker activities across campus. Today’s students are naturally interdisciplinary, and it behooves our institution to think the same way – tomorrow’s students might minor in a discipline, but major in a societal challenge.  

Because we provide a deep engineering education built on a broad foundation, our graduates are well prepared for life in the real world, a life in which they are just as likely to become entrepreneurs, C-suite executives, or the fuel in a non-profit’s engine as they are to stay entrenched in their initial engineering discipline. They are prepared for a life in which they may eventually move from the aerospace to energy sector, or pass seamlessly across the biomedical and tech sectors. This is the flexibility that a CU Boulder education anticipates and makes possible – an opportunity that clearly stems from the ability to interact, take risk, and learn from the broad and diverse set of innovators on all corners of our campus. 

I’d also like to thank the incredible faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners of the College of Engineering and Applied Science for coming together to fuel the strong growth in research impact, public education mission, global reach and inclusive climate across our college and campus these past three years. Together, we have made a difference in the lives of the next generation of engineers and applied scientists, impacting the future of our state and nation for years to come. 

I look forward to watching the continuing growth of engineering on this campus: to next year’s first-year engineering students who will be the largest class and most diverse and academically qualified students in our college’s history, to the rollout of our new Biomedical Engineering degree programs, the growth of our material science, computing and quantum engineering disciplines, the expansion of our partnership programs with Western Colorado University, Colorado Mesa University and each community college across the state, the continued strengthening of connections with industry partners, future collaborations with the Anschutz Medical Campus, and the impact of our accelerating entrepreneurship and professional preparation programs. But mostly, I look forward to witnessing the value that a 21st century engineering program will continue to provide to the educational mission of this campus. 

My time at CU Boulder has confirmed that this campus is indeed shaping tomorrow’s leaders, creating knowledge, and inspiring innovation that positively impacts humanity — and that these aspects of a 21st century education are strongest when done together. 

Bobby Braun is the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the Smead Professor of Space Technology at the University of Colorado Boulder. In January he will join the executive leadership team of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as Director of Solar System Exploration.