Leading the board: Lessons from the MAE external advisory board

Posted: May 25, 2021

The mechanical and aerospace engineering external advisory board (EAB) is a select group of individuals with careers ranging from academia, industry, government agencies, and other mechanical or aerospace engineering professions. The group comes together with department leadership to help advise on both academic and social issues, as well as other trends and direction in the engineering world.

Two long-serving members of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering EAB have recently announced they will be stepping down as co-chairs of the board. Doug Ball and Dan Kimmet have nearly 40 years of combined service to the EAB between them.

Doug Ball

Doug Ball began his tenure on the aerospace engineering advisory board in 2000, 10 years before the departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering would merge. He took on the role as the chair of the aerospace engineering board in 2013. Dan Kimmet joined the mechanical engineering advisory board in 2003 and took on the role as its chair in 2008.

Both Kimmet and Ball were recruited into the EAB by members of MAE, Kimmet by former professor Don Houser, and Ball by MAE alumnus Joe Shaw, who he had worked with on NASA’s High Speed Civil Transport Program.

Over their years of service as members and leaders on the external advisory board, Ball and Kimmet have seen a variety of changes among the EAB. One of the biggest was the merging of the aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering boards into a single unit. Another change that both Ball and Kimmet noted is in the make-up of the board.

“I would say we have become a much more diverse group,” Ball said. “And by diversity, I mean more than race and gender.  We are a technically more diverse group, as well as geographically, plus the variety of organizations that are represented.”

Kimmet said that along with the increased diversity of the board, they have been able to become more in-tune with the department in recent years.

Dan Kimmet

“With the encouragement of the chairs over the years, the board has become increasingly aware of the challenges and needs of the department and is much more involved in providing input to the department,” Kimmet said.

Along with seeing changes in the membership of the board, Ball and Kimmet have also seen plenty of successes during their service. One of the main successes has come in the form of the EAB’s awarding of the yearly Undergraduate Teaching Awards to MAE faculty. This has been expanded to include the awards for graduate teaching, mentoring, and the staff award for service to the department. 

Other successes have been the board’s role in ABET certifications, championing a number of MAE’s endowed scholarships including the Gregorek, Burggraf and Srinivasan funds. And one of the most recent success has been the inclusion of students in external advisory board meetings. The EAB schedules a private session where students can voice issues or concerns. These are then discussed confidentially with the department chair.

Of course, with successes also comes challenges. One of the biggest challenges that both Ball and Kimmet named was navigating the merger between the aerospace and mechanical engineering external advisory boards. When two boards merged into one larger advisory board, Ball and Kimmet began sharing their leadership roles.

“Doug and I co-chairing has been great,” Kimmet said. “We make a solid team.”

Together they have worked alongside numerous department chairs, and navigated a variety of issues, including changes caused by the pandemic. Along with its challenges to students and faculty, the pandemic required the EAB to change its meeting structure and participation. But like always, the EAB has kept moving forward.

Looking ahead, as the EAB continues on, Ball and Kimmet believe there are still challenges ahead of them.

“The University has stated that it wants to significantly increase enrollment. This will challenge budgets, faculty, staff and facilities,” Ball said.  “The board will need to assist the department in meeting these challenges.”

Kimmet said the board will have continue to adapt, as changes come to them.

Doug Ball meeting with a group of students as part of the External Advisory Board
Ball working with students 

“The world and technologies are rapidly changing,” Kimmet said. “The EAB must recognize and support the department in ensuring the department understands, plans and reacts appropriately in supports of these changes.”

But both Ball and Kimmet believe the board is equipped to handle these prospective challenges and more. They both emphasized the importance of the board continuing to work collaboratively with the department chair and faculty members, acting as support and also proactively advising ahead of any challenges.

As for their hopes of what the board will go on to accomplish down the line, Ball said that he hopes they will become more active and involved in department extracurricular teams. Kimmet hopes that the efforts in diversity will continue on.

“The board needs to continue to emphasize increased diversity in board membership to remain relevant to the changing world,” Kimmet said.

Ball and Kimmet acknowledge that both MAE students and EAB members have a shared goal of advancing the department. Their advice for students: stay involved.

“If you have ideas, discuss it with other students, faculty and even the department chair. And after graduation, don't forget the department,” Ball said.

“There are many ways to support the department,” Kimmet added. “Certainly, the EAB is one significant way to do so. However, supporting can include such things as maintaining relationships with faculty, participating in events, mentoring students, assisting in recruiting exceptional students, and financially supporting initiatives personally and through one’s employer.”

For EAB members, Ball’s advice is to be proactive, engaged, and to volunteer, especially for leadership roles.

As the two step down from their positions as leaders on the EAB, they said from their view, the future for the board and the department looks bright.

“There is an exciting and wonderful future ahead of us,” Kimmet said. “We have an MAE department that has the facilities, people, and skills to excel in this complicated world. It will take students, alumni, and organizations like the EAB to provide the support and input for the department to reach all of its potential.”


Written by Sam Cejda, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering