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Engineering to Expand Dramatically at Harvard

By Jeffrey Chang


After finding that it had “underinvested” in engineering and technology development in a report last spring, Harvard University will expand its engineering program, substantially increasing the size of its faculty and possibly establishing a separate school.

According to an article in BusinessWeek, Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers said the new school would probably be located on a large block of land that Harvard owns in Allston, across the Charles River from Harvard Yard.

Harvard’s Dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences Venkatesh Narayanamurti told The Boston Globe that Harvard hopes to increase the faculty in the department from 60 to 100 full-time professors.

Harvard is also aiming to increase the number of undergraduate engineering majors (which include students studying computer science and applied mathematics) to 600, from 350. According to The Harvard Crimson, the graduating class of 2003 only had 16 students who concentrated in engineering sciences, 45 in applied math, and 75 in computer science.

Narayanamurti said that Harvard would not offer every type of engineering, but would strive to be at “the cutting edge in certain disciplines” including bioengineering, information technology, and nanotechnology, according to BusinessWeek.

The initiative’s announcement comes shortly after MIT’s launch in September of a new PhD program in Computational and Systems Biology, which the MIT News Office called the “first of its kind in the country.” The graduate program combines the fields of biology, engineering, and computer science.

Narayanamurti said that the new efforts will help Harvard compete with other schools such as the California Institute of Technology and Princeton University. The engineering programs at those colleges have 90 and 120 faculty members, respectively, according to The Harvard Crimson.

He also said that Harvard could also compete against bigger engineering schools such as Cornell and Stanford, according to The Boston Globe. However, he said Harvard would complement MIT more than compete with it, because the schools are so different.

“I welcome it,” said Director of MIT’s Biological Engineering Division Douglas A. Lauffenburger, about Harvard’s new initiative. “Hopefully, we’ll trade students and faculty candidates with them. This whole field is so important... I think it’s a wonderful development.”