Keith Molenaar said his time as acting dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science starting in January 2020 provides a glimpse into the broad vision he has for the institution and community going forward. One that celebrates interdisciplinary research with strong workforce and educational components alongside an inclusive community building approach.
Provost Russ Moore appointed Molenaar as the college’s permanent dean in late June. Molenaar has already started discussions with leadership about updating the college’s strategic vision and plans to move into an inclusive and encompassing feedback phase for that work in the very near future.
“I want to stress that my intention for that work – including planning, feedback sessions, implementation – all of that will be done through a collaborative and transparent process,” he said. “The final product we produce will be a bottom-up vision of how we can become the most comprehensive and inclusive flagship engineering college in the nation.”
Molenaar is the K. Stanton Lewis Professor of Construction Engineering and Management. He received his bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering and his doctoral and master’s degrees in civil engineering, all from CU Boulder.
He has held numerous leadership roles in engineering, including associate dean for research. From his time in that position through his term as acting dean, research awards across the college have grown from $82 million in 2017 to $150 million in 2021. Meanwhile, the college’s rankings have risen over that same time period from No. 18 to now at No. 11 among its public university peers in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools rankings for 2023.
“We will continue to focus on accelerating our research impact and on improving the other areas in that ranking process that overlap with our own goals as an educational institution. I am committed to increasing our reputation as a place students, faculty and staff want to be a part of,” he said.
Molenaar said one of his top priorities coming into this role is continuing to support and grow interdisciplinary research in the college. Specifically, he wants to further expand the recently launched Quantum Engineering Initiative and accelerate support for center-scale research, such as the Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE) Engineering Research Center with the National Science Foundation.
He said the quantum initiative showcases the college’s ability and willingness to work across the CU Boulder campus and system on potentially revolutionary research, while the ASPIRE center demonstrates how the college can lead cutting-edge research at the key intersection of sustainability and infrastructure.
“Both items also feature new and comprehensive educational and workforce development components, such as new degree options,” he said. “With that in mind, I would like the college to continue to find and prioritize these kinds of comprehensive opportunities because they really do support our institutional mission holistically.”
Molenaar is also planning to focus on increasing activity around engaging with alumni, foundations and industry partners. He pointed to recent projects like the Kewit Design-Build Scholars Program and events like the Women in Engineering panel as examples of the activities he would like to see continue into the fall semester and beyond.
“The student-facing events we host starting with Engineering Launch and running all year are crucial and really do help establish and build out our community,” he said. “We’re entering into a new phase for CU Engineering, and now is the time to set our sights even higher together as a community.”