THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Perspectives from Fred Driscoll ’65, Dean, College of Engineering and Technology, Wentworth Institute of Technology
More than five decades at an institution will give you deep perspectives on the changing landscape of higher education. Just ask Fred Driscoll ’65, Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Now celebrating his 52nd year at Wentworth, Dean Driscoll has witnessed countless changes across nearly all facets of higher education—from technology to housing to experiential learning to academic programs. We asked him to reflect on the most significant transformations and share insights about the changes that lie ahead.
Q: What brought you to Merrimack College?
I grew up nearby in Everett, Mass., and my cousin had graduated from Merrimack in 1957 with a degree in civil engineering, so I was aware of its reputation. I graduated in 1965 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Q: How did you end up in the field of academia?
After graduating from Merrimack, I worked for the government in Washington, D.C., but I didn’t like the job. I saw an opportunity to teach in the electronics department at Wentworth and decided to apply. I said, “Oh, I’ll do it for two years and see how it goes.” That was 52 years ago!
While I was working at Wentworth, I decided to pursue a master’s degree at Northeastern University, which is right across the street. From there, I started writing textbooks.
Q: What has kept Wentworth interesting to you after all these years?
I’ve been offered a tremendous amount of flexibility to pursue my interests. In particular, I’ve had the opportunity to develop timely programs that address today’s technological and engineering challenges—and prepare students to solve tomorrow’s. Our biomedical engineering program is a prime example.
Biological engineers work at the intersection of life sciences and engineering. This type of degree can lead to careers in medicine, conservation, water treatment, clean energy, food quality, tissue culture, and the environment, to name just a few. We want engineers to be creative, to design the future, and to make the world a better place. With a degree like this, you’ll make an impact—not just in this country, but in the developing world.
We’re also constructing a new 70,000-square-foot academic building to house new labs for our present biomedical engineering and civil engineering programs, and our innovation and entrepreneurship makerspace as well as our new biological engineering program beginning this fall semester. It will be an exciting place for students to study, complete lab experiments, do applied research and collaborate with faculty.
Q: How did Merrimack inspire you to pursue a career in academia?
Merrimack gave me a very good undergraduate education, which I enjoyed immensely. Along with my engineering courses, I took humanities, social sciences, philosophy, psychology, history, and religion courses. It didn’t hit me at that time that I would ever go into academics. But, I quickly found that the students were great and my colleagues were outstanding. When people ask me how I became dean, I always tell them “longevity.”
Q: What have been the biggest academic changes that you’ve seen in your career?
When I started, Wentworth only provided Associate degrees, then in the 70s, we moved to a three- and four-year model, and then we moved to the co-op model 40 years ago. Today, we’re 4,000 students strong.
We provide hands-on opportunities. For example, our co-op office helps prepare students through mock interviews, resume writing workshops, and career fairs.
All of our classrooms are wired, every student gets a laptop when they register, and we now have classrooms inside laboratories.
Q: When was the last time you visited Merrimack’s campus?
A few years ago, I had my 50th reunion at Merrimack, which was great. Every five years, a group of electrical engineers—which includes some of my best friends—come back to campus.
I live in Andover, so I can see the transformation on campus. New buildings and lots of changes—it’s been fantastic.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m always thinking ahead. Here at Wentworth, we’re innovating, developing new programs, and planning for the future. Besides, I don’t intend to leave before our new building is complete!