Mary Rezac is Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture’s new dean. She comes to Pullman from Kansas State University, where she served as Tim Taylor Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of Major Grant Initiatives in the College of Engineering.
Here’s a chance to get to know Mary and her thoughts on the future of Voiland College.
Why did you choose to come to WSU?
I have known about Washington State University and Voiland College for nearly 20 years and have always been impressed with the outstanding research and quality educational opportunities that it provides.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with WSU President Schulz when we were both at Kansas State University. I’ve been impressed by his positive energy and visionary leadership.
As I learned more about Voiland College, I was impressed with the scope and quality of teaching and research. The multi-campus system intrigued me. Voiland is unique in that it provides educational opportunities in five locations. This structure provides opportunities to create a unified vision for Voiland College with education and research programs designed to take advantage of the unique characteristics of individual campuses and programs.
How has your experience prepared you as dean of Voiland College?
I’m proud to be a first-generation to college engineering graduate. I grew up on a small cow-calf ranch in northeast Kansas where I learned to do many things from rebuilding a tractor engine to making our own butter. I know that Voiland College is graced with many first-generation college students and I remember the added burden to learn not only engineering, but how to be a college student. I’m hoping to be able to create programs that make this transition easier for our students.
I worked in research and development in the oil industry for several years after getting my B.S. in chemical engineering. That experience taught me a great deal about industrial research, connecting research to corporate profitability and managing teams across distributed geographic locations.
Perhaps most importantly, fostering an active safety culture was deeply ingrained in my being. I believe it is essential for leaders to set expectations and pattern behavior relative to safety. Within our college, we have opportunities to help students develop this understanding through classroom teaching and the one-on-one mentoring realized in the teaching and research laboratories. I plan to work with college leaders to ensure that we’re taking full advantage of the opportunities in this area while providing a safe environment for learning and research.
What are the biggest opportunities you see for Voiland College?
I’m excited that Voiland College is in a very strong position with outstanding students, faculty, and staff; impressive facilities on several campuses; a state government that recognizes the importance of higher education and STEM training; and a vibrant state economy fueled by the hi-tech sector.
The greatest opportunity for the college is to more fully-realize its potential. In particular, I will focus on increasing the retention and graduation rates of students; improving industrial partnerships; strengthening programs to support the talent needs of the state; and ensuring that the Voiland College continues to attract and retain world-class faculty passionate about teaching and research.
What are your top priorities as dean?
I want to create an environment that celebrates the collective nature of the college while recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths of individual units.
I’ve termed this “One Voiland” to remind us that we’re members of the same college, independent of discipline, degree, or campus. We will grow and succeed as a united college working together for a set of common goals.
To accomplish this, I will meet the students, faculty, and staff in Bremerton, Everett, Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver. I will also meet with current and prospective corporate partners. In these discussions, I want to learn about the needs of these industries to ensure that the students graduating from Voiland College are well-positioned to be successful in finding employment to launch their careers.
Additionally, I will learn about the unique research needs of Voiland College’s corporate partners. Our faculty, graduate students, and research staff have markedly increased the volume of research conducted in the past decade. As we continue this expansion, I will work to connect our researchers to interested corporate partners.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like the outdoors – hiking, camping, skiing, and geo-caching. I’m looking forward to taking some time with my family and getting to know the Palouse and the wonderful outdoor recreation it has to offer. I’m always open to suggestions, so if you’ve got a favorite spot that I shouldn’t miss, I’d love to hear about it!