Q&A With Larry Head, Director of the Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program

Aug. 12, 2021

Larry Head, a University of Arizona alum and longtime professor of systems and industrial engineering, is the inaugural director of the Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program.

Head received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in systems engineering from the university in 1983, 1985 and 1989 and started teaching in SIE in 1989. He left academia for a few years for industry, then rejoined the faculty in 2003 and was SIE department head for seven years. He served as the college’s interim dean from 2018 to 2019 and the interim vice provost for online learning from January to June of 2020.

What will you be overseeing in your new position, and what duties does it include?

The Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program spans all four years of our engineering students’ undergraduate education. Our goal is that, each year, our students will gain hands-on engineering design experience, build their teamwork and leadership skills, and increase their understanding of engineering’s value to society. We will be working with our faculty across all engineering disciplines to identify such opportunities

Historically, we’ve taught engineering design to seniors as part of the Interdisciplinary Capstone program, including ENGR 498. Now we want seniors to have already developed most of the design skills before they start the capstone class. In Interdisciplinary Capstone, they will apply, refine, and continue their journey as creative problem solvers. 

Does this new position mean there will be changes in the program affecting industry sponsors?

Our sponsors are fantastic, and we are always looking for new ways to connect with them. As we develop design experiences for the earlier academic years, we hope that our current and new sponsors will see opportunities to connect with our students in new ways. We envision some students working on running projects from one year to the next, and others taking on different projects over the years. We hope expanding these sponsor-student relationships will help sponsors identify champions, allow faculty to better understand what skillsets industry is looking for, and give students the chance to find areas they are most passionate about.

What drew you to this new position?

As faculty, we are always working to improve our courses and curricula, but rarely do we have the chance to create change across all the college’s engineering disciplines. The Craig M. Berge Engineering Design program has an ambitious, exciting set of goals, and I want to be part of this change.

Has COVID-19 caused any lasting changes to the program's process?

The negative impact of COVID-19 has been the lack of personal interaction between students and faculty. These interactions are where we get to know our students as people, and not having that element has been challenging. However, I believe the move to online and flex learning has allowed us to rethink how we teach. For example, we have engaged with instruction designers who have helped us improve our approach to teaching. I’m hopeful that this will provide a framework for discussion about integrating design into some of our curricula. 

What are some of the plans you have for the program that you are the most excited about?

We have a lot of big plans! We are collaborating with the University of Arizona Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs, or Arizona FORGE, unit on several interdisciplinary challenges. These challenges will bring together engineering students and students from other disciplines to work on tackling societal problems. We also want to expand entrepreneurship and community service opportunities for students interested in creating new products, working with startups and seeing their efforts have real-world impact. And, of course, we are improving the engineering design process within our disciplines and in the capstone design course.

These are just a few of the ideas we are pursuing. We hope to continue expanding offerings to students through partnerships with industry and academia.  

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