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Jerome Lynch portrait
Jerome Lynch Photo by Chris Hildreth

Jerome Lynch

Vinik Dean, Pratt School of Engineering

By JEROME LYNCH, Vinik Dean, Pratt School of Engineering

It is a joyous moment for the Pratt School of Engineering to celebrate, along with the rest of the Duke community, our proud institution’s centennial birthday! Engineering by its very definition advances technology to develop solutions that help people; in short, it is a profession in service to society. When James B. Duke established Duke University to advance the common good, he included in the Indenture of Trust the conversion of Trinity College’s engineering program into a formal engineering school as soon as budgets would permit. In 1939, the Board of Trustees made that dream a reality by creating the School of Engineering.

My, oh my, how the world has changed over Duke’s first century. Given engineers’ role in advancing the common good, it comes as no surprise that more than any other discipline, engineering’s evolution is a direct reflection of a changing world. This becomes readily apparent if you flip through the digitized catalog of our student-written DukEngineering Magazines from decades past. Our students of the past dreamed of leaving their mark on the world by designing cars and radios to make our world smaller through mobility and communications; today they dream of building habitats on Mars or wirelessly connecting autonomous cars. 

The tools of the trade have evolved, too. Classes once dominated by slide rules and protractors now feature laptops and iPads. Class assignments once focused on mastering equations and theory have been replaced with hands-on design projects richly contextualized in the real world. Even our facilities have changed from the remotely located but much beloved “Old Red” to today’s bustling beehive of activity in the Harrington Quadrangle, which spatially connects Hudson Hall with the more modern Teer, Fitzpatrick, and Wilkinson buildings. 

I cannot help but reflect on the phenomenal ascent of Duke Engineering over the past century, since the 1903 graduation of C.E.D. Egerton, our first student to receive an engineering degree.  Today we have well over 3,000 students in the Pratt School of Engineering. Even more important, a program that was once dominated by white males has given way to an incredibly diverse community that draws great strength and innovation from its diversity.

Centennials are as much a celebration of the future as they are of the past. While the 20th century was defined by rapid technological progress that allowed the decoding of the genome, the creation of the Internet, and the placing of human beings into space, the 21st century will be defined by the global-scale problems that need to be solved, including climate change, poverty and global security. While the complexities of these challenges are perhaps greater than any we have encountered in the past, I know solutions exist, and Duke engineers will be the ones leading their discovery. 

To get our graduates ready to take on these challenges, we are relentless in modernizing our approach to engineering education. We continue to lead in offering students a broad education based on our institution’s liberal arts traditions. The phenomenal breadth our graduates gain when we combine engineering with the liberal arts is more essential than ever because of the challenging ethical and equity implications that rapidly evolving technologies pose. We also believe it is essential our students contextualize their learning in the real world by working with the diverse stakeholders that make up our society.

The future of Duke Engineering is incredibly bright. I see it in the purposeful and passionate students who pass through our hallways every day.  I see it in the devoted faculty and staff, who offer our students learning experiences that inspire them to be leaders. I do not doubt that if I could see the Pratt School of Engineering one century from now, I would be just as amazed as William H. Hall, our first dean, would be if he could see us today.

We’ll continue to grow, adding expertise in crucial areas that define the leading edge of discovery. We’ll continue to make big bets on the transformational technologies that must be developed to address the world’s challenges. We’ll continue developing the brightest minds into future leaders with the grit and perseverance the world needs to thrive.

We’ll continue to be Duke Engineering.