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Dean family endows second professorship to help strengthen engineering’s future

From left, Bill Dean, Fred Kish and Dan Stancil.

To recruit the best faculty members, the College of Engineering needs the best resources. While the College already has world-class research facilities, exceptional faculty members and a smart, well-rounded student body, its competitors have the same. Endowed professorships are key recruitment tools that help set the College apart in its efforts to attract and retain top faculty talent.

These endowments provide salary and funds for faculty members’ research activities, which helps get new programs off the ground and enrich student experiences. An investment in faculty members is an investment in NC State students, who are the future of engineering.

Two of the College’s strongest supporters know this well. William H. Dean, president and CEO of M.C. Dean, is a 1988 electrical engineering alumnus. His father, Marion Casey Dean, is the retired president and CEO of the company and a 1967 electrical engineering alumnus. In 2017, they endowed the M.C. Dean Distinguished Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2021, they endowed a second professorship to cap off the NC State Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign, which finished with 104 new endowed professorships across the University.

“The impact it makes is significant,” Bill Dean said. “It is a real measure of the University’s competitiveness, and it’s one of the things we can do as a private benefactor to have a direct impact on our own College.”

Bill Dean remembers the influence and support of some of his professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), especially those who taught math-intensive courses that helped him learn inductive reasoning skills critical to his role leading M.C. Dean.

Headquartered in Tysons, Va., M.C. Dean is a global leader in cyber-physical solutions. Founded in 1949 by Marion Caleb Dean, father of Casey Dean and grandfather of Bill Dean, the company has grown from an electrical specialty contracting business with 55 employees to a billion-dollar company with more than 5,100 employees and 34 offices globally.

M.C. Dean develops cyber-physical solutions across fields for private enterprises, including 80 percent of all Fortune 50 companies, and for almost every federal agency. Employees work on large-scale projects that require the integration of software development and infrastructure design for mission critical facilities, health care, security and more.

“People who learn to integrate software and design and infrastructure, when it comes to our sector, they’re going to be people who lead the industry,” Bill Dean said.

Fred Kish, the first M.C. Dean Distinguished Professor and director of the NC State Nanofabrication Facility (NNF), also recognizes the need for students to have skills integrating hardware and software. Coming to the College with 30 years of experience working for Hewlett-Packard and Infinera Corporation, he brought with him valuable expertise and knowledge of industry needs. This includes engineers who are skilled in the broader areas of semiconductors, photonics, optics, communications and sensing.

“There’s a tendency today for students to be less focused on developing solutions that are hardware intensive, or, at a minimum, have hardware and software together,” Kish said. “Those wind up being some of the most important and valuable skills, when people can put multiple disciplines like that together.”

People who learn to integrate software and design and infrastructure, when it comes to our sector, they’re going to be people who lead the industry.”

Bill Dean

While working in industry, Kish made several important contributions to LED lighting. He helped invent and commercialize the highest-performance red-orange-yellow visible LEDs in the 1990s, which became the most common technology used in red, orange and yellow traffic and automotive lights. He also co-invented and helped commercialize the first large-scale photonic integrated circuits and the first fully integrated system-on-a-chip for optical communications.

Kish always had an interest in academia, but it was the endowed professorship that drew him to NC State.

“This professorship, to me, was table stakes to come to NC State,” he said. “So, without that, I would not have been able to make the transition.”

Kish’s current work is focused on leading the NNF, which is home to a full range of micro- and nano-fabrication capabilities used by companies and universities. He is also leading development of new research initiatives at NC State on semiconductors and is involved in efforts related to the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America (CHIPS) Act, part of the $300 billion America COMPETES Act currently being considered by Congress. He is advising three graduate students and will eventually teach courses on semiconductor optoelectronics and fabrication. In 2021, he was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
“The prestige of the appointment has opened a lot of doors relative to interacting with other companies and universities,” he said. “And that goes both for things that we’re doing to further develop the NNF as well as things that we’re doing to cultivate launching research initiatives at the University.”

Dan Stancil, ECE department head, said what Kish has brought to ECE is exactly why endowed professorships are such an important tool for strengthening the department. Hiring faculty members with world-class reputations and strategic leadership abilities is a priority. Kish fits that bill.

“Under Kish’s leadership, the Nanofabrication Facility has significantly expanded its capabilities, enabling a wide range of ongoing research projects,” Stancil said. “He is also providing strategic leadership in the area of semiconductor nanofabrication to enable us to position ourselves to address federal research directions relating to this area of increasing national priority.”

The second M.C. Dean Distinguished Professorship has not yet been awarded, but it will be valuable for strengthening the ECE department by attracting a new leading scholar to the department or recognizing an outstanding faculty member.