Forum helps prime future engineering leaders


A recent forum at UCSD focused on the message that effective leaders will help American tech companies remain competitive; however, industry and academia must work together to ensure these top decision-makers are cultivated.

The Bernard and Sophia Gordon Engineering Leadership Center Inaugural Forum held in May attracted 125 students and engineering leaders who talked about how programs such as the Gordon Center can effectively train future leaders in engineering. It included a keynote address by Bob Akins, a UCSD alum and co-founder and chief executive officer of San Diego-based Cymer Inc., which supplies light sources for the semiconductor industry.

The new Gordon Center, part of the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, was established this year to educate and train effective engineering leaders who create new products and jobs that benefit society. The center plans to offer leadership courses, as well as forums by engineering leaders in industry, government, military and academia.

During the forum, Akins stressed the importance of programs such as the Gordon Center.

“Engineering leadership is proportional to the number of engineers we’re educating,” said Akins, who, along with UCSD alum Richard Sandstrom, spun Cymer’s deep ultraviolet (DUV) photolithography technology out of the university’s labs and into the commercial world in 1986. “Unfortunately, over the last decade or two, this country has lost focus on educating engineers. That’s been amplified more recently because we’ve clamped down on the number of foreign students who can stay in this country due to national security. Meanwhile, the competition is turning out good engineers in record numbers. … I think if we’re not careful, we’re going to find this country lagging behind any other countries in the areas of engineering leadership.”

During the forum, Akins pointed out that engineering students must be taught that being an effective leader takes a lot more than just knowing the technology.

“There’s raising money; running engineering programs on time and on budget, which is always difficult; there’s the building of the supply chain infrastructure and gaining the trust of the customer,” he told the audience.

Akins also fielded questions from the audience during the panel discussion, “America’s Engineering Leaders of Tomorrow: How to Find the Leader In You.” Other panelists included Ramesh Rao, director of the UCSD Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology; and Kenneth S. Vecchio, chairman of the Jacobs School of Engineering’s NanoEngineering Department.