OGDEN, Utah – Computer science professor David Ferro has been selected as the dean of Weber State University’s College of Applied Science & Technology.
In preparing for his new role, Ferro never loses sight of the human component to technology.
“As a college, we’re not just interested in creating technology for its own sake, we’re realizing the possibilities for people, the economy and society as a whole,” Ferro said. “You have to understand the greater context of your work. When you do that, you can see opportunities.”
Dispelling the computer programmer cliché, Ferro is outgoing, a trait he inherited/learned from his parents, and plans to utilize as dean.
“My dad was successful because in addition to being an engineer, he was a good people person. He was able to listen to and synthesize people’s needs into a direction that satisfied the greater good,” Ferro said.
Ferro plans to work to earn the trust and support of the faculty.
“Going to talk to people and finding out what they are doing, that’s the best part of the new job,” Ferro said. “Our faculty members are doing a lot of great things. The more I talk to them, the more I learn and the more excited I get.”
Although he didn’t officially start until Aug. 1, Ferro said he’s spent much of the summer making the transition. He and his wife, Marjukka Ollilainen, a sociology professor at WSU, spent five weeks teaching in China this spring and witnessed that nation’s ongoing construction boom. Ferro said the experience helped him identify potential international partnership opportunities for the college, especially for the Parson Construction Management Technology Program.
“A dean needs to be a visionary, looking beyond the college to see what possibilities there are,” said Ferro. “A dean also needs to be a facilitator, helping people fulfill their potential while moving the whole college in a particular direction. In that role I also need to be a promoter of the college. Our college is full of potential.”
Ferro recognizes that, unlike most academic fields, technology changes quickly. That requires faculty in the college to be constantly training and learning.
“We have very few courses where you can teach it the same way year after year,” Ferro said. “Either the platform is changing, the software or hardware is changing, the techniques are changing, or the industry is changing.”
Like most of his faculty peers in the college, Ferro spent years working in industry before moving to academia. Trained as a computer programmer and developer, he served as a staff engineer in companies like UNISYS and Lotus Development. After completing his dissertation – he holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech – he became the senior manager of e-business at Iomega in Roy prior to coming to WSU.
“I was originally hired to teach one class as an adjunct in Information Systems and Technology,” Ferro said. “In 10 years I basically went from adjunct faculty to dean. That’s unbelievable. I think that reflects how forward thinking WSU is and how many great opportunities there are for faculty, staff and students.”
One major step on that path was a two-year stint serving as chair of the faculty senate beginning in 2008. The experience helped Ferro engage with a larger segment of the campus population and better understand the complexities of how the university works.
“Dr. Ferro’s familiarity with the college and the campus places him in a unique position to guide the College of Applied Science & Technology,” said Provost Michael Vaughan.
Despite being an internal candidate, Ferro knows he will be expected to lead the college through some change. For example, the recent addition of an electronics engineering degree necessitates a paradigm shift.
“We like to have our graduates hit the ground running. Many already are working in the field or have a job when they graduate,” Ferro said. “That’s true in engineering too, but many of our engineering graduates will want to pursue advanced degrees. That’s a new wrinkle. In most of our programs very few students intend to go on to graduate school.”
Finding ways to make the college more academic and interdisciplinary are also priorities, said Ferro, who has co-authored three books with colleagues in computer science and information systems and technologies.
“At the same time, we need to work with the community to create the best programs and graduates,” he said.
Ferro views his new role as working in partnership with the faculty to meet the needs of current and future students. He also wants to encourage learning opportunities for students outside the classroom, like undergraduate research, partnerships with industry, community engaged learning, and project-oriented learning activities.
“There are still more jobs out there in technical fields than there are graduates,” Ferro said. “Our customers typically are the people who are going to hire our graduates, and we need to satisfy their needs for skilled, well-rounded individuals.”