Podcast - S1E1

The Complete Engineering® Podcast

Get to know: Dean Lance C. Pérez

If we want to have a bright future for all of the young Nebraskans, we need to develop a much more diverse economy in the state, and the College of Engineering should play a critical role in that.

Lance C. Pérez
Dean, College of Engineering

On this inaugural episode of the Complete Engineering Podcast, we get to know Dean Lance C. Pérez and learn more about the future growth and projects going on at the University of Nebraska College of Engineering.

Dean Lance C. Pérez
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Intro: Welcome to The Complete Engineering Podcast, brought to you by The College of Engineering. We are Nebraska, where we develop complete engineers, with the technical and non-technical skills to do big things. Visit us at Engineering.unl.edu.

Matt Honke: Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Complete Engineering Podcast, I am Matt Honke.

Karl Vogel: I'm Karl Vogel.

Matt Honke: And we are both with the College of Engineering, and we are so fortunate today to have the Dean of the College of Engineering, Lance Perez with us. Welcome to the show.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Glad to be here.

Matt Honke: I guess we'll get started here, but tell us a little bit about yourself, and what brought you to the University of Nebraska, and to the College of Engineering.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: It's actually, sort of, a funny story because I originally had no intention of coming to Nebraska. I was on the faculty at the University of Texas, at San Antonio. I was in the process of applying for faculty jobs, and actually had four offers already, including one from the University of Maryland, at College Park, which is a top 10 college of engineering, and about 45 minutes from where my wife and I grew up, so we had pretty much decided we were going to go there, when I saw the ad for Nebraska. And when I saw the ad for Nebraska, I was talking with my wife, and I said, "you know, my dad was born in Nebraska, I've never been there, I've never seen where he was born, so why don't I apply, I'll get the interview, I'll get to come out to Nebraska and see where my father was born, and then we can go to Maryland." So, sure enough, I applied for the job and got the interview, and came out to Lincoln to interview, now we have to realize, my dad was born in Trenton, Nebraska, which is near McCook, so you can tell how much I knew about Nebraska geography. (both hosts laugh) I thought I'd be able to sneak out of my interview and get to Trenton, to see where my father was born, needless to say that didn't happen. I had a really good interview experience. When I came out, my wife had come out with me, she had a great experience. Rod Soukup, the chair of the Department of Electric Engineering at the time, and his wife Tracy, and all the faculty at the university just did a really good job of recruiting us. And we got back on the plane for San Antonio, and I looked at my wife and I said, "We need to get ready for the move to Maryland." My wife said, "I think we need to talk about Lincoln." And that was 22 years ago, so. (laughs) (laughs)

Matt Honke: I think what that tells me is, if you're looking at Nebraska, and you've never been here, what you need to do is just come here, see it, see the place, and that can change some minds.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Yeah, it's absolutely true, and it continues to play out to this day, that with faculty, staff, and students, once we get them here, we have a very, very high success rate, but we have to get them here, because there are a lot of misconceptions about Nebraska as a state.

Karl Vogel: What things about the university, about the city, and the College of Engineering in particular, do you think are the difference makers when students and faculty are considering coming here?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Yeah, I think there's a commonality across the state, in the city of Lincoln, and in the university and the college, that people really appreciate how welcoming a community that Nebraska, and Lincoln, and the university have. It really is a very strong sense of community. People are supportive, are friendly, it's safe, it's a very high quality of life, doesn't have a lot of the stresses of big cities, so great public schools, great parks, so it's a very high quality of life, and I think when you couple that with this very quiet pride that Nebraska has, that we expect excellence, in across everything that we do, and you find that in the community, you find that in the university, you find that in the college, and so, whether it's faculty, staff, or students, they get here, and I think they really find that combination powerful. We are always trying to be the best, yet we do it in a way that's very friendly.

Karl Vogel: Wanting to be the best, and improving, is something that I know that you've had in your sights for the college. You're fairly new to the full time job as Dean.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Sure

Karl Vogel: You just started your full time appointment just this year. What do you see as a vision for this college in the next five or 10 years?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: It's clear that we need to build a College of Engineering that is a driver of economic development in the state. If we want to have a bright future for all of the young Nebraskans, we need to develop a much more diverse economy in the state, and the College of Engineering should play a critical role in that. Stem jobs, nationally, are growing by about 10%. In Nebraska, they're only growing by about 2%. It's clear that the future and the economy in the United States is technology based, and so we need to build a College of Engineering that's help driving that kind of economic development. And we do that two ways, one is through our undergraduate education, that is educating the workforce for tomorrow. There are several major industries in the state, particularly civil engineering, architectural engineering and design, and related construction fields that are about to undergo a generational change, and we need to provide that next generation of workforce. And then, we need to build a research enterprise that is creating new technologies, and new jobs, and allowing existing industry to innovate more quickly, so that we are developing another sector of the economy in Nebraska. A good example of this is in software engineering, where there's an emerging software engineering industry in Nebraska, in Omaha, and Lincoln, and we need to be driving the development of that sector of Nebraska's economy. And we can go across the engineering disciplines, and see that there are, if you look at energy production, Nebraska can play a big role in that, whether it's ethanol, or whether it's wind, whether it's solar, the college needs to be leading that effort.

Matt Honke: And I know that's something the college just recently, last couple years, started the software engineering program, so that's something that's new. You mentioned, we want to build the college, some of that comes with buildings. So, I know we have a few building projects that are on the docket now, and then some that are long-term, can you go over, a little bit, what we're doing right now at the College.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Yeah, absolutely. So, we're fortunate to have some major capital projects underway. Before I describe those in detail, I think it's important to realize that part of building that college, that's gonna drive economic development in the state, is also making the college bigger and stronger. Just like many industries, higher-ed is competitive now in a way that it didn't used to be, and you have to grow if you're going to really survive and thrive, so our strategy moving forward to become that economic driver in the state involves growth, and growth requires great facilities. So, if we're going to educate the engineer of the 21st century, if we're gonna conduct research that's solving the major problems that are facing the world, we have to have the facilities that support both that kind of education, and that kind of research. So, we currently have two phases of construction of capital projects planned. So, the first phase was approved by the Board of Regents in August. It's a 75 million dollar, primarily a renovation project. So, we're extremely fortunate to have received an allocation of 70 million dollars from the state and the university, through LB957, and then we're adding in five million dollars of private philanthropy to that for this 75 million dollar project. And that project will accomplish two things, it will tear down and rebuild the building that we refer to as "The Link", that connects Scott Engineering Center to Nebraska Hall, and then it will renovate the majority of Scott Engineering Center. And when that project is completed in the fall of 2022, we'll have about 200,000 square feet of state of the art space to support both research and education, but it won't accommodate a lot of growth, it'll accommodate a little bit of growth, but when you look at the amount of hiring that we're gonna be doing over that same period, and the growth in enrollments that we expect to see over that same period of time, we'll likely be at capacity as that first phase of construction is completed. So, we're also planning a second phase of capital investment, which involves building a brand new engineering building at the intersection, roughly the intersection of 17th and Vine Street. This will be an 85 million dollar project, that will be funded entirely with private money, and that building will accommodate the growth of the college for the next several decades, and we'll be focused on engineering education, particularly our undergraduate mission, and will more than likely include, a significant presence from our civil engineering and construction programs.

Matt Honke: This is The Complete engineering Podcast. And here at Nebraska, we have our Complete Engineer Initiative, and we're kind of interested to hear from you, can you help describe what that means, to be a complete engineering, what that means to you, and what makes that unique here at the University of Nebraska?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Sure, yeah. We're very proud of the Complete Engineer Initiative. To understand it, I think you have to go back a little bit and realize that 20, 30 years ago, when people like myself were being educated as engineers, it was all about technical skills. Could you do the math? Could you do the design? Could you do the analysis that was required to be a good engineer? And of course, those skills are still critically important to any engineer, but it's also become clear that additional skills are needed to be a good engineer, and that's whether you're gonna be a traditional engineer, whether you're gonna be an academic like myself, or whether you're gonna use your engineering education as a launch pad into medical school or law school, or going to work for a non-profit to help get clean water supplies in third-world countries. Engineering is inherently a global endeavor. It doesn't matter whether you're working for a small company in Lincoln, or for a huge company like Boeing, that clearly has a global presence. Engineering is inherently global, and involves communication, involves inter-disciplinary work, involves working with teams, so what we set about to do with The Complete Engineer, was to make sure that our undergraduates and graduates left the university with more than just technical skills. So, The Complete Engineer is built around six competencies, intercultural appreciation, leadership, teamwork, self-management, service and civic responsibility, and engineering ethics. And what we try to do with The Complete Engineer program, which is primarily an extra and co-curricular program, is give our students opportunities to develop these non-technical competencies. We're a national leader in this, and building programs that support the development of these non-technical skills. Our students are starting to see that this is a competitive advantage for them when they interview, because when they interview, they're able to talk about their educational experience in a much more holistic way than a typical graduate would, and employers are really valuing these skills. Of course, the technical side will always matter, and this is not meant to diminish the technical side, but it's about really rounding out who our graduates are as people and as engineers.

Karl Vogel: And it was driven by feedback from industry. The people in the industry were saying that this is what they wanted from engineering graduates in general, and this is something we thought we could give them.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Certainly, that part of the impetus for this program. Even the accreditation criteria explicitly look at things like teamwork and communication skills, but we really fleshed it out, based on some other experiences that we've had, both on our faculty side and on the student side. But yeah, we certainly hope it's being responsive to industries needs.

Karl Vogel: Part of The Complete Engineer Initiative is, as I understand it, is building the well rounded engineer, somebody who's got life in order, and part of that is having interests outside of engineering, and what interests do you have outside of engineering? When you break away from the office, what things give you that break that you so need?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Sure, yeah. I think work/life balance is important to everybody, and certainly engineers are very hard working, and they have to have that kind of work/life balance as well. It makes us better engineers when we have that, so I do carve some time out of my schedule for hobbies. Probably my two biggest hobbies are travel, so I've been really fortunate in my life, I've traveled to over 60 countries in the last 30 years. I've been to six continents. I was fortunate to live in Europe for almost a year. So, I continue to travel extensively with my wife and family as well. And then another thing that I do is, I do wheel chair athletics, I've done that for 30 years, and I'm very fortunate that in Nebraska, there's great support for wheelchair athletics in both Lincoln and Omaha. So, in Lincoln, we have a basketball team that's supported by Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, and I've played on that team for about 20 years. I'm in semi-retirement on the basketball side. (both hosts laugh) It's a sport for younger men and women than I am, but I still practice. And then also, in Omaha, we're fortunate to have a wheelchair softball team, the Nebraska Barons, that's supported by Alegent Health System, and I've been playing on that team for 15 years. We've won 12 world championships. In the last 15 years, we are the best team in the world. It's a lot of fun. It's also some of my best friends. Every Tuesday night, late spring to early fall, I drive to Omaha and practice with my friends, and then we go to a national tournament. And I've been fortunate to also play on the Team USA wheelchair softball team as well for two years. And have gone to Japan to compete in an international tournament. And we're hoping to get wheelchair softball recognized, eventually as a paralympic sport.

Matt Honke: Wow that's great. You mentioned six continents, Antarctica, is that what we're missing?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: We are missing Antarctica.

Matt Honke: (laughs) Where have, you've been to a lot of countries, but what's one of the top one or two that you can't get back to enough?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Oh wow, that's a tough question. I've loved them all really. Probably either, there's the two places that I go to the most are, I of course, love Europe. My wife and I have traveled extensively in Germany and Italy, and Spain. We really love that part of Europe a lot. And then, of course, the second place is Latin America. I'm just a huge fan of every, you know, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, I just love South America and Latin America. It's just a great culture, really interesting, beautiful, full of potential, so those are the two places we go to the most.

Karl Vogel: Is there anything that you haven't seen that you've got on, kind of, a bucket list you wanna see?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Yeah, lemme think about that, I actually do. (both hosts laugh) I'd love to get to the Middle East, love to see Jerusalem, Beirut, Tripoli, all these great cities of the Middle Eastern culture. I'm actually going to Lebanon in December for an accreditation visit, but I don't think I'm gonna get to see much, because of security concerns, but I'd love to spend some time in the Middle East. And then, there's sort of, a couple check list type of things. I'm not actually a big tourist. Yeah. When we go places, we're much more about sort of, wandering the side streets, and getting to know local culture, rather than start checking off tourist sites, but I'd love to see Machu Picchu, I'd love to see Angkor Wat, I need to go to Iceland, and Greenland too, those are two places I wanna go. I wanna see the aurora borealis as well, I've never seen that. Those are, sort of, on the bucket list. And also, I've traveled to 49 out of the 50 states, so the only state I haven't been in is Alaska, so I need to get Alaska taken care of.

Matt Honke: Well, you could get the aurora borealis at the same time.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: That's right. (laughs) There you go.

(bell rings three times)

Matt Honke: Well, we like to finish each of our shows doing a lightning round, and this is a series of just fun yes, no questions, it's a untimed 60 seconds. Dog or cat?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Cat.

Matt Honke: Who's your favorite superhero?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Oh wow, used to be Aquaman actually, so-- (laughs)

Matt Honke: What is your favorite baseball team?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: You know, growing up in DC, tough to be a baseball fan, but probably the Washington Nationals.

Matt Honke: Favorite tailgating food?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: We throw extensive tailgates for the Husker games, (laughs) so we do some pretty fancy tailgating food. We really love this Vietnamese beef we do on a stick. (laughs) So we have a tailgate, the theme is everything on a stick, so everything has to be cooked on a stick, and we do this Vietnamese beef that's really outrageously good. (laughs)

Matt Honke: Have you ever used a slide rule?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Actually I have. I'm of the generation that wasn't required to use a slide rule, but when I was a freshman and sophomore in college, I thought it was a big deal to learn how to use a slide rule. I couldn't do it anymore, but there was a moment in time when I knew how to use one.

Matt Honke: First video game you owned?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: This is gonna be disappointing. (laughs) Well, I mean, if you go way back, I thing I had Pong, right? (everyone laughs) But I've never owned a PlayStation or Xbox, so I've had a Wii, that's about it.

Matt Honke: Favorite musical genre?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Classic rock.

Matt Honke: What was your favorite toy growing up?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Lego blocks, easy.

Matt Honke: Who's your favorite third baseman of all time.

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Brooks Robinson from the Orioles (laughs)

Matt Honke: If you could time travel, to when would you go?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Probably I'd like to go to ancient Rome or ancient Greece.

Matt Honke: On a scale of 1-10, how strict were your parents?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: 11. (everyone laughs) They were Spinal Tap. (everyone laughs)

Matt Honke: Do you know how to run a VCR?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Yes, I do.

Matt Honke: Chocolate or Vanilla?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Chocolate.

Matt Honke: Saturday or Sunday?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Saturday?

Matt Honke: Where is your favorite place to play softball?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: It's Omaha. We have the best single field in the country. It's just so great, and it's great for the people who attend as well, which makes it a lot of fun. When we have our tournaments up there, it's a real family affair, and we do big cookouts, it's fun.

Matt Honke: What's your pet peeve?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: (laughs) I don't know if I can answer that one honestly. (everyone laughs) Well, it's, you know, my wife would say this, and she's right, it's messiness, disorder, I like things in order. (everyone laughs)

Matt Honke: Pancakes or waffles?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: Pancakes, easy.

Matt Honke: And Herbie Husker or Lil' Red?

Dean Lance C. Pérez: You gotta go Lil' Red. (everyone laughs)

Karl Vogel: That wasn't so bad, huh?

(soft piano music)

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to The Complete Engineering Podcast. For more information, visit us at Engineering.unl.edu. (soft piano music)