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Entrepreneurial Education

Karol Professorship will support collaborations between engineering and the liberal arts

Forget the traditional college education defined by majors, departments, and even schools. At Tufts, learning without boundaries is considered essential to students' future success. Bridge Professors are being hired with expertise spanning multiple departments, and a new major in film and media studies offers a cross-genre option for students interested in both.

And, engineers can no longer just be engineers, says Jianmin Qu, who came to Tufts from Northwestern University last summer to lead the School of Engineering. "The liberal arts should be a prerequisite for everything," he says. "Engineers must be leaders with communication and social skills who can be creative and entrepreneurial. The infusion of the liberal arts in engineering will help us produce engineers who are problem solvers and leaders and entrepreneurs."

That philosophy is shared by entrepreneur, philanthropist, and university trustee Steven Karol, A76, A04P, A13P, who holds a bachelor's degree in social psychology from the School of Arts and Sciences. He and his family have established the Karol Family Professorship in the School of Engineering to advance interdisciplinary education and research. Qu is the first appointee to the chair.

"If you want to make advances in engineering or science today," Qu says, "it has to be interdisciplinary to have impact, because society's problems are interdisciplinary. Engineers have to know about politics, law, public policy, [and] culture."

The Karol Professorship, the dean says, will support research that has the potential for broader impact by allowing him to develop the natural synergies among faculty in engineering, the sciences, and the liberal arts. Qu's own research in theoretical and applied mechanics has led to safer airplanes, among other advances.

From the printing press to the iPad, progress is "a result of an engineer applying his or her engineering expertise to challenges in a real-world context in order to create meaningful change," says Karol, who chairs the board of advisors to the School of Engineering and serves on the board of Tufts' Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, focused on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education from kindergarten through high school. He is the managing partner of Watermill Group, a private equity firm in Lexington, Massachusetts, that helps businesses move onto a trajectory toward successful futures.

Karol's personal trajectory took advantage of the fluidity among academic disciplines. As a high school student at Vermont Academy, he played drums and trumpet in the jazz band Duke's Devils—we enjoyed a "modicum of success," he says—but he was also pretty good in math and science. He applied early decision and was accepted to Tufts School of Engineering, but soon discovered that he wanted more than the traditional engineering major offered back then. He transferred into the School of Arts and Sciences and pursued what was, in the 1970s, an unconventional study of the human brain through the lens of such diverse disciplines as sociology, mathematics, music, and psychology.

"I had the free run of many great thinkers and ideas. It was a broad experience," says Karol. "I am grateful that Tufts allowed me to follow my intellectual curiosity and inquisitiveness down whichever path it led and provided exceptional professors and mentors to guide me along the way. To this day, I continue to pursue opportunities to expand my horizons, challenge myself and the status quo, and learn new things in much the same way I was inspired to learn while I was at Tufts."

With his wife, Michelle, and their three daughters, two of whom graduated from Tufts, Karol previously endowed a scholarship fund to give undergraduates those same opportunities. And through the endowed professorship, Karol is supporting a talented academic leader and researcher who shares his passion for what makes a Tufts education distinctive: a personalized experience that encourages students to inquire, innovate, and invent.

Qu, who came of age in China during the Cultural Revolution and left for graduate study in the United States after earning a B.S. in mathematics from Jilin University, "embodies Tufts to me," Karol says.

"The more we can develop critical thinking and enable the entrepreneurial spirit," he says, "the better chance we have of making the world a better place."