On November 17, 2009 I met with the School of Engineering Dean, Jim Plummer. Dean Plummer attended UCLA as an undergrad and majored in general engineering. He then earned an MS and PhD from Stanford in Electrical Engineering. His thesis was about silicon chip technology focusing on the design of integrated circuits. He joined the Stanford Electrical Engineering faculty as a tenure track professor in 1978. In 1993 he became the School of Engineer Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and in 1996 became Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department. In 1999 he took on his current position as Dean of the School of Engineering.
As Dean, the most important thing Plummer does is think about the strategic direction of where the school is going in the future. Today the School is one of the best in the country and in order to maintain this high level of quality, Dean Plummer most be forward looking. Dean Plummer believes the School is well positioned because Stanford is fundamentally a liberal arts institution with an engineering school in it. The School of Engineering is surrounded by six other great schools focusing on earth science, law, medicine, business, humanities and science, and education. This is the perfect setup for the future in which the answers to many “grand challenge” problems lie in the intersection of disciplines. For example, many life science problems today are bioengineering problems that are being tackled by collaborative efforts between life scientists, doctors, and engineers. It is building these connections and partnerships that is the most interesting part of Dean Plummer’s job. For example, the bioengineering department is the only department at Stanford that is managed equally by two schools (the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering) and Stanford is one of the few places where this could happen.
Dean Plummer also spends a lot of time on development efforts and is also involved with faculty appointments and searches. He is still has a research group with four to five students and teaches EE 212, Integrated Circuit Fabrication Processes, every fall. When he is done being Dean he plans to return to return to being a fulltime professor.