Dr. John Y. Walz
Interview with MSOE President Dr. John Walz
Fifth President Of MSOE
With their eyes on the future and a nod toward MSOE’s history, the MSOE Presidential Search Committee sought an industry-experienced professional who also is an academic leader. They found that rare combination in Dr. John Y. Walz, who was appointed fifth president of MSOE and assumed the role on July 1, 2016.
Throughout his career, Walz has had the opportunity to work in industry, at big public schools and also at small private schools. When asked what he’s most proud of professionally, he doesn’t hesitate. “I’m very proud of the students I’ve impacted. In education, your success is measured by your students’ success. That’s why we’re here. I’m very proud of what the graduate and undergraduate students I’ve had the pleasure of working with have accomplished. And I’m proud of the positive impact I’ve had on them.”
“When I was contacted by a search firm regarding the presidency at MSOE, I did what anybody would do. I went online to learn as much as I could about MSOE and I discovered I really liked it. I liked its mission and was very, very impressed by the great job MSOE is doing educating students in important fields. That resonated with me. MSOE is doing really well already and has the opportunity to become an elite institution. MSOE is the type of university that I wanted to be president of.”
Every step in his career prepared Walz to become president of MSOE. He earned his degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University, about an hour from his hometown of Ponchatoula, Louisiana. After graduation Walz was a process support engineer for Shell Oil Co. at a large plant outside of New Orleans. “My initial plan was to take a summer job and then go back to grad school,” he said. “But I really liked the work and the people. Having a little bit of money was nice too, so I decided to stay. I was supporting a large plant making chemicals and problem solving and working with the operators.”
During that time, Walz took graduate courses at night at Tulane. It was then that he became interested in the science side of things and the technology. “I wanted to get into research at Shell and figured I needed a Ph.D. So I took a leave of absence to get a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. My time in industry was good and enjoyable. I have an appreciation for the importance of engineers because Shell was a huge operation and it was run by engineers. After I got my Ph.D., Shell made me an offer to work in their R&D center. But in grad school I picked up the teaching bug so I decided to give teaching a try—and I really enjoyed it.”
Walz taught in the Chemical Engineering Departments at Carnegie Mellon University, Tulane University and Yale University. His first academic leadership role was as chairman of Yale University’s Chemical Engineering Department. From there he went on to Virginia Tech where he was a professor and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and most recently he served as a professor and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky.
“Dr. Walz comes to us with a highly commendable record of education and leadership experience. He has a strong history of relationship-building both internally and externally to support the goals of the institution. He is a tremendous addition to the university,” said Dr. Scott Moon, chairman of the MSOE Board of Regents and chairman and CEO of DLSM.
Regarding the future of engineering, business and nursing, Walz said, “The boundaries between disciplines are getting thinner and starting to break down. It’s all about multi-disciplinary approaches to work and problem solving. For example, we could have engineers working with nursing and business students on developing a new product or device and how to do that in a profitable way.
“MSOE is in a great position to break barriers between disciplines because we’re small and private and we can be nimble. Starting new and interdisciplinary programs is easier to do here than it might be at a large school. We can adjust quickly and take advantage of opportunities that arise. Today’s problems and challenges are becoming so big that it’s hard for one discipline to attack them. We need people with multiple skill sets.”