Engineering Leader of the Year

March 14, 2019

Thank you, President Fry.

A warm good evening to all of you. Thank you for honoring us with your company. Drexel’s College of Engineering is ascendant, but we could not do all the things we need to do without your enthusiastic support. So I want to take a moment before I introduce our student honoree to let you all know who is in the house tonight.

First, thank you to our incredible sponsors of the 2019 Engineering Leader of the Year. In addition, I’d like to acknowledge the members of our College of Engineering Executive Advisory Council who are here, including Council Chair Paul Richards.

I’d also like to thank the student musicians who are providing us with accompaniment to the ceremony tonight. Thank you all for being a part of the evening celebrating our Engineering Leader of the Year.

Now I’d like to introduce a special undergraduate, a second-year student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and an individual who has by all accounts fulfilled his co-op with Lockheed Martin swimmingly!

He is a graduate of Central High School in Philadelphia. He is a Liberty Scholar here at Drexel, one of our most prestigious scholarship programs. He is currently completing his second co-op at Uptalk, a student-started, Drexel-incubated software service company. And he plans to pursue an accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree in computer science.

Please join me in welcoming to the lectern Jeechieu Ta.

Introduction of Jeffrey Wilcox

The Engineering Leader of the Year award is the College of Engineering’s most prestigious. We honor our alumni through many forums. But the Engineering Leader of the Year award singles out one individual who merits commendation both in terms of engineering success and in terms of support for the College and its value as an institution of higher education.

I would like you to think about that term now, if you would—higher education. It’s bandied about casually and, like so many casual locutions, loses some of its potency along the way.

Drexel is an institution of higher learning—learning that is higher, that is elevated, and that in turn elevates those who bend their intellectual promise towards something that is also higher: not just success, but contribution. That is what we are honoring tonight in Jeffrey J. Wilcox.

And of course, the award also gives us a chance to take a look at the College itself. We want our alumni and corporate partners to be supportive and contributive. But we also want Drexel to be worthy of that support. So let me take a few moments to spell out how we’re meeting that goal.

The College itself is at an inflection point, with a leadership team that aspires to an era of excellence and national renown. Here are some examples of our vigorous new direction:

Drexel University has recently been designated at the highest level of research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which assigned Drexel to R1 status for the first time. Just 34 private institutions in the country have earned this distinction. The College of Engineering is Drexel’s second-largest research enterprise, so we had a huge hand in that.

In addition, the College’s graduate program has just been named in the top 75 engineering programs in the nation by US News & World Report. That news came out on Monday.

The College has also been selected as a partner in the prestigious network of engineering institutions in the Kern Family Foundation’s Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network—aka KEEN— where we take our place alongside peer universities like Villanova, Bucknell, Duke, and Georgia Tech.

Last fall, we won an unprecedented four GAANN grants, which are bestowed by the US Department of Education to provide tuition and stipends for the nation’s highest-performing  graduate students.

The Faculty Senate has just approved two programs that will put us in good stead for the kinds of challenges our graduates will face in the future. We are offering a degree in Robotics in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which should make Jeff—who graduated Drexel with a master’s degree in electrical engineering—very proud. We will also be instituting a certificate program in Peace Engineering to provide students with training in peace-building specifically tailored to the work that engineers do in the world.

And as part of a reinvigorated philosophy of international engagement, we’re hosting a joint symposium in Philadelphia this May with Ben Gurion University of the Negev. At that symposium, we’ll develop synergies between our two faculties for an international resource team on water management and public health issues.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying to Jeff, to our alumni, our sponsors, our Executive Advisory Council, and especially our students—we endeavor every day to be worth your good faith in us and to reflect all that is best in higher education. I hope you will agree that we’re off to a great start this year.

The Engineering Leader of the Year ceremony for Jeff, of course, is another example of that great start.

As Vice President for Digital Transformation at Lockheed Martin, Jeff is responsible for the design, development, and implementation of operations strategy. This involves far more than focusing on emerging digital technologies to transform systems design, production, and sustainment. It involves ensuring the workforce and systems are in place to enable a successful transformation.

Like all exceptional professionals, Jeff knows the strategy for that transformation goes beyond any one company. It includes supporting the next generation of engineers and their ability to manifest a set of skills that were not even part of the conversation when most of us graduated from college. So Jeff, as you will shortly hear, is an advocate for leadership skills, one of the skills we hear about in higher education more and more as an essential part of our pedagogical task.

Jeff supports the many ways leadership can be modeled, taught, and passed along. He is a strong advocate of mentorship at Lockheed Martin. He has been a dedicated partner in the long and productive co-op relationship between Drexel and Lockheed Martin. In fact, I believe there are several co-op students in the audience tonight who have been or are currently co-ops at the company.

He also continues to be a student himself as an avid reader, immersing himself in learning that is quite apart from his technical background. As a jazz lover, Jeff is also a student of jazz piano, and has been playing for a couple of years now. Jeff, we might ask you back one of these days to give a performance with the Drexel Jazz Orchestra!

Finally, Jeff serves as an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology. He teaches a course in systems thinking. As an educator, I appreciate that Jeff is keeping his connection with the essential transmission of knowledge. With all of his responsibilities at Lockheed Martin, he still manages to understand how important it is to stand in front of a classroom of students, inspire them, and in turn be inspired by the fresh, vital perspective of young people. That kind of commitment is something we can reinforce with our students here at Drexel through an association with professionals like Jeff.

We look forward to a fruitful relationship with Jeff as a close friend of the College and as an advocate of higher education.

We welcome the members of Jeff’s family who are here—his wife, Amy, whom Jeff met while he was a student at Drexel and when Amy was over at that other university just a few streets away (the University of Pennsylvania). The youngest of their three sons is also here tonight. Welcome, Alex.

We’ve come here tonight to honor a person who by all accounts intelligently, devotedly, and humbly strives to meet the best definition of what it means to be an engineer in today’s world. Please join me in giving a warm round of applause and congratulations to our 2019 Engineering Leader of the Year, Jeffrey J. Wilcox.