David Engelke, PhD, assumed his duties as dean of the Graduate School, effective Oct. 1.

Engelke has been involved in graduate training and administration at many levels at the University of Michigan since 1983. He brings a wealth of relevant experience to his new position. We asked him to talk about his vision for the future of the Graduate School at CU Denver and CU Anschutz.

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Dean David Engelke

What appealed to you about this position?

There were a number of factors. Foremost, the position offered a chance to work with faculty and students to find creative solutions for opportunities and challenges. For 20 years I’ve become increasingly involved in creating and improving PhD, Master’s, and Certificate graduate programs across campus, and this is a chance to work in an even more diverse disciplines. Some parts of the graduate dean’s responsibilities are familiar to me from my previous work at Michigan, and there are also a lot of issues that will be new to me. Another important factor is that my wife, Sandy, and I have been visiting Denver regularly for over 30 years to see family, and we already knew it to be a great place.

How did your own graduate path prepare you for your current position and career?

My graduate and postdoctoral training were terrific for teaching me how to plan and conduct research. However, at that time, programs were not aimed at imparting some of the teaching, financial, and personnel management skills academics need to be successful faculty members from the start, let alone serve in administrative roles. We eventually learn this through mentorship by more senior faculty, but it limits a person’s effectiveness in their early career.

What do you find fulfilling professionally and personally about administration in an academic setting?

Looking back, there are a lot of things that have given me immense personal and professional satisfaction. Probably the most acute of these have been when I was able to help individuals overcome seemingly difficult obstacles, either financial or bureaucratic, to fulfilling their training goals. I strongly believe that the function of graduate administration is to remove non-academic barriers to achievement, not to create them. I have also greatly enjoyed helping create new interdisciplinary conversations and degree pathways proposed by faculty and students. The creative urge to initiate or respond to new directions in intellectual pursuit is a valuable function of universities. The graduate school can often “grease the wheels” to make this happen at the institution.

What is the greatest challenge facing graduate education today?

One of the biggest challenges is the pace at which disciplinary knowledge and needed skills are changing and increasing. Many of the classic models for graduate education, however valuable and well-designed, need ongoing adaptation in both methods and content. There has not only been an explosion of knowledge, but the technology for delivering that information is revolutionizing how it can best be delivered. We need to be light on our feet, not always easy in academics. Another major challenge, as with undergraduate education, is the rising cost of delivering the highest-quality graduate programs. There are no easy solutions to this, but combinations of public and private partnerships and creative teaching models are being applied and need to continually evolve at CU Denver and elsewhere to better finance education without compromising quality.

Why should a person pursue a graduate degree in today’s economic climate?

The reasons for pursuing graduate training are incredibly diverse, ranging from personal enrichment to career advancement, either in the private sector or academe. Even in a single program students frequently have quite different motivations and aspirations, and these can evolve over the course of study. The challenge for the graduate programs is to design their training to be highly effective for these diverse needs.

What advice would you give graduate students at the beginning of their careers?

Find your passion, then go for it. I have often advised prospective graduate students that if they are uncertain of their career goals they should work for a while in their prospective fields to discover if that life is really for them. Once decided, students can throw themselves into achieving at a highest level. The “fire in the belly” has always been the best indicator of success.

When you think about your move to Denver, what excites you the most about relocating?

In talking with the faculty, students, and fellows at CU Denver I have been struck by their dynamic and forward-looking outlook. With the relatively recent creation of a Graduate School between the Downtown and Anschutz campuses, there has been excellent progress in leveraging the potential for synergy between the two campuses, but there are still enormous opportunities for the Graduate School to assist strengthening of both individual programs and interdisciplinary initiatives. The many people who I have met have been enthusiastic about new possibilities, and I am eager to work with the faculty, staff and students in the coming years.