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While the dean of Ohio University’s Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology has an official open-door policy for all students, his semester lunch with student leaders is one more forum for them to share what’s on their minds.
At spring semester’s lunch on Feb. 7, Dean Dennis Irwin, who says students come first, walked his own line.
“If I’m not meeting with the students, then I’m not doing my job – and I’m not happy,” Irwin said. “To me, it’s about the students. They’re knowledgeable about what they need, and I think they’re very concerned not only about themselves but what happens in the future to students who follow them,” he added.
Students brought to his attention various facilities issues, such as lighting in the Academic & Research Center (ARC), temperature control in computer labs, ARC and Stocker Center opening and closing times, and a desire to increase the number of table and chairs in the ARC during finals week to support more study groups.
Scott Kostohryz, a senior in mechanical engineering, asked about class sizes and overall growth of the college, which saw its highest enrollment to date this fall with nearly 500 incoming freshmen.
“As I get further into the curriculum, I’ve noticed some of the class sizes are getting larger,” he said.
The dean agreed that the concern was valid and shared some of the strategies the college is using to manage class sizes, including hiring additional faculty.
“The fact of the matter is that we can’t allow our classes to get too large and we do monitor them,” he said. “We have some metrics we want to fit within, and those depend on the department and the level of the class. We’re trying to hire people to make sure we solve those problems,” he noted.
Sophomore chemical engineering major Rowan Grebeck asked about changes to the Russ College’s admissions criteria, suggesting an application essay section that would ask future students to express their passion for engineering and technology. Irwin said the Russ College administration is already considering such a change, in an effort to recruit students who share the college’s ideals to create for good.
“It’s nice that the dean takes interest in how we feel about things,” Rowan said. “We learned a lot about how the college is run and how he really does care.”
Students also made requests at the lunch for the college to offer a personal finance workshop, promote the availability of undergraduate research funds, address computer lab technical issues, and look at upgrades for specialized software.
When one student expressed concern about a non-Russ College learning community class being held in the ARC, the dean explained that Russ College classes have first priority for ARC and Stocker Center classroom scheduling, then space is opened to the university’s other academic units.
“The dean's lunch is a great opportunity for the students of the Russ College to really have their voices heard,” said Talli Topp, a senior in mechanical engineering. “It seems to me that he has some of the same concerns as we do, and I expect they will all be addressed in an effective manner very soon.”