The North Texan interviewed Oscar Garcia, founding dean of UNT's College of Engineering, to find out about his plan for the new college and some of his personal challenges. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Why did you want to become an engineer?
When I was a child, I became fascinated with putting together toys at Christmas time. It was natural for me to assemble parts into a working model. I was a good student and liked a challenge. I was convinced that I had a natural inclination to become an engineer. After high school, I enrolled in the hardest curriculum offered by Havana University — electrical engineering.
Would you tell me about your career? What were your greatest challenges and greatest accomplishments?
It was difficult to be a student in Cuba during Castro's revolution. The university closed in 1954. I became a 17-year-old technician at a microwave station that was a subsidiary of AT&T. I had a very responsible position at a young age. I was in charge of a test bench facility that was worth a million dollars at the time. I left Cuba in 1959 to pursue my academic training in the United States. I studied engineering at North Carolina State University and received my bachelor's and master's degrees there. Then I went on to receive my Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.
Besides the obstacles I faced in Cuba, I found that learning English was a challenge. There were no English as a second language courses back then. I studied books, took courses and made presentations to gain a greater command of the language. Along with my engineering, developing these communication skills prepared me to become a manager.
Among my accomplishments are balancing work and family life. I have an understanding wife. My first daughter was a year old while I was getting my doctoral degree. My parents helped care for her while my wife worked. It was a team effort that took three years. Later, my professional society work with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers was very rewarding.
Why were you interested in becoming the first dean of the UNT College of Engineering?
This was a wonderful opportunity to leave my imprint in higher education. I've worked in academia. I've been a consultant to industry and becoming UNT's first engineering dean was my chance to develop a first-rate engineering school as my legacy.
As founding dean for the College of Engineering, what would you like to
accomplish? What is your vision for the
I'd like to lead students, faculty members and our industry partners in successful and satisfying paths. Beyond the basics of classical training, I'm moving the school toward modern methods — "out of the box" thinking. I want to inspire students to concentrate on continuing their education from undergraduate to graduate school and then to life-long learning. Getting students to realize what they are capable of is important to me.
What are some of the programs that are foundational and what new programs are on the horizon?
UNT has a long-standing engineering technology program and now we're rapidly expanding within the fields
of computer science, computer engineering and materials science. For many years, the university trained engineering technologists in mechanical, electronic, manufacturing and nuclear engineering. We're now adding programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels in electrical engineering.
We're not only thrusting these programs into advanced aspects of technology such as real-time operating systems that will make computers faster, but we're also poised to create new programs with the largest federal funding UNT has ever received.
With our Center for Advanced Research and Technology, we will combine the disciplines of materials
science, engineering, chemistry, biology and physics to conduct nanotechnology research. This is an exploration of matter at the atomic and molecular levels.
With this new technology, we can create rational drug design through computer-simulated experimentation. We can contribute to medicine by engineering improved titanium replacement bones. We can develop materials to shield rockets in space. We can create robotic mechanisms that will help an aging population. We can protect our soldiers with better materials for bulletproof vests. The technology we create can impact virtually every human body, every home and every industry.
How will UNT's college play a role in the economic development of Texas?
It's important to the economic future of Texas to employ the latest technology and the best scientific and technical expertise possible. We're committed to improving research. The cross-pollination of engineering disciplines with physics, chemistry and biology will improve research outcomes to fuel an economic engine for the North Texas area.
UNT's Research Park — the home of the College of Engineering — is the perfect facility to house our faculty and high-quality equipment, conduct critical research and prepare students for career success. It's also an appropriate setting to incubate start-up businesses interested in working on conceptual designs to create reliable products. Entrepreneurs will be able to create new concepts and designs and share them with industry and the community, while UNT assists them with getting patents and licensing.
We live in a technological society. Anyone with that kind of background has an advantage. Add good communication skills and business savvy and you have a winning combination for a great engineering school.