When Aerospace Engineering Prof. Alec Gallimore joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1992, it wasn't with plans of one day being appointed as dean of the College of Engineering.
However, two years later Gallimore, currently the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering, was appointed to the position at February’s Board of Regents meeting. The position is effective July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2021.
The position has been held by current Dean of Engineering David Munson since 2006.
In a statement on Gallimore’s appointment, University Provost Martha Pollack wrote Gallimore is uniquely qualified to lead the college.
“I am confident that he brings the experience, energy, and demonstrated leadership to guide the world to greater visibility as a true exemplar of innovation, thus placing (the College of Engineering) in the highest echelon of institutions worldwide,” Pollack wrote.
In an interview, Gallimore said upon hearing the news, he was flushed with feelings of nostalgia and appreciation.
“It was a flashback of my career at Michigan,” Gallimore said. “I started as an assistant professor and was thinking wow, I didn’t see this one coming 24 years ago. I felt excitement and gratitude for a lot of the people who have been very supportive, including the current dean, Dean Munson, and all of my students, faculty members and colleagues that I’ve worked with.”
Gallimore’s past experience includes various leadership positions. He was formerly associate dean for academic programs and initiatives in the Rackham Graduate School and has also served as associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Engineering. Additionally, he has two professorships: He is an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and the Richard F. and Eleanor Tower Professor of Engineering. He also has several academic awards, including acknowledgements from the University and the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s an incredible honor, unbelievable honor actually,” he added of the appointment.
During his time as associate dean of academic affairs, Gallimore said he has experienced the ins and outs of the Engineering school.
“My current position until July 1 is sort of equivalent to a chief operating officer, so in some respects I was exposed to about all facets of how the college works,” Gallimore said. “And that’s been extraordinarily helpful, not just to faculty fairs, space and resources but really because Dave (Munson) runs a very collaborative team, I was able to see a lot of what was going on in the other areas, like graduate education, undergraduate et cetera.”
Gallimore founded the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory at the University, which has become one of the world’s leading and most successful electric propulsion research centers, in 1992. The lab has 50 graduate alumni, including 36 doctoral degrees and 14 master’s degrees.
Several doctoral and master’s degree students work in the lab with Gallimore. Among these is Sarah Cusson, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering.
Cusson said Gallimore has far more than just the basic credentials to be the College of Engineering dean.
“He’s very good at what he does and he’s very dedicated to anything he attempts to do,” Cusson said. “He will put as much effort, and probably more than necessary into anything he does.”
One of Gallimore’s defining features is his love for the University, and specifically engineering, Cusson added.
“He’s very easy to talk to and so even though he has so much experience and is this big man on campus, it doesn’t seem like that when you’re talking to him,” she said. “You can ask any question and I don’t feel like I have to impress him when I talk to him, I can just ask questions.”
Frans Ebersohn, Cusson’s colleague and fellow Ph.D. candidate, echoed her praise for Gallimore.
“From the research side, he knows what he’s doing and he’s done incredible things,” Ebersohn said. “As a leader, you can ask anybody that has worked under him that he is and can be the leader you need him to be. This is incredible from a leadership standpoint that somebody’s willing to think of the people under him that much, and just the fact that he cares so much about the people under him is something that I think makes him an awesome leader and perfect for a position like this.”
When Gallimore takes over the position in July, he has many ideas for the College of Engineering, he said, but noted that he largely hopes to continue on the path Munson has laid out.
“There’s a lot of overlap in our style,” Gallimore said. “I think both Dave and I take the work extremely seriously but we tend to have a little fun and have a little bit more of a relaxed style. We’re very approachable; both of us are people. I think we lead by consensus and are very transparent, we try to be as transparent as possible.”
His ideas for the future are focused on how the College of Engineering could become more accessible to undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students, as well as faculty and facility development.
“When I was interviewing for the position… the things I focused on were faculty recruiting and development,” Gallimore said. “Planning of the facilities, short and long term planning, what buildings make the most sense to renovate, to add to, to build, those types of things.”
Gallimore added that he also wants to develop a college-wide educational mission, defining what exactly it means to graduate from the College of Engineering.
“I’m hoping that we’ll actually think more critically about our educational mission, and think about what we should be doing at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. level more so in the next few years,” he said. “We haven’t had a major discussion as a college to say what does it mean to come out with a bachelor in engineering? What does it mean to have a master’s of engineering? What does it mean to have a Ph.D. in engineering?”
Transportation is another initiative on Gallimore's mind. One of his longterm goals is making the commute between central campus and north campus easier and re-imaging north campus as a destination for all students.
He's approaching the position, he said, with both vehemence and apprehension. His first goal: Don’t mess up.
“It’s such a great college already, and really part of it is that there’s a lot of responsibility in making sure that we have such a world-class university as it is of right now, and the College of Engineering has to make sure that things continue to get better,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition out there, a lot of people looking at Michigan both for leadership but also to try and knock us off our perch, if you will.”
Once the college’s community decides which direction it would like to pursue over the next five years, Gallimore said he plans to push for positive change in his time as dean.
“It’s a big place, a huge place,” Gallimore said. “Almost 10,000 students, 600 faculty members, 600 staff, 75,000 alums, so there’s a lot to it. It’s a very complicated and complex organization. In some respects it’s a medium-sized university. Where do you begin in terms of trying to make positive and effective change in that kind of organization?”