New Rose-Hulman chief a contrast to predecessor: Arizona academic takes reins after Midgley ouster

If higher education were a business, graduates would be its core product. Economic development would be a promising second line. New Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology President Gerald Jakubowski wants to make sure he’s delivering exactly what the market demands.

“At Rose-Hulman, we need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of business and industry,” Jakubowski said. “For a seamless transition into the work force, students must learn by doing.”

Jakubowski, 56, could be describing his own path to the president’s office. Eager for a fresh start after enduring nearly a year under the embattled Jack Midgley, Rose-Hulman on March 17 appointed a president who appears to be Midgley’s opposite.

A mechanical engineering professor by training, Jakubowski’s resume boasts long experience in academic administration. It also includes stints in key positions for the national organizations that accredit and serve engineering schools. Midgley was a former business consultant who’d never managed a university.

What’s more, Jakubowski is a selfdescribed “people person,” who says he’s eager to build relationships with every Rose-Hulman constituency. He’s already saying the right things to endear himself in Terre Haute.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a dream come true,” he said.

Midgley’s detractors frequently complained he was dictatorial in his decisions and difficult to work with. He resigned under pressure last spring.

Rose-Hulman Chairman Robert Bright said the school spent six months on its search for a replacement. Jakubowski emerged from a field of 142 candidates. The process required him to meet with most everyone in the Rose-Hulman community, Bright said, in individual meetings and open forums for the public.

“All those interviews gave us comfort he’s dedicated to undergraduate engineering and science education,” Bright said. “He has energy and a personality we feel is consistent with Rose-Hulman’s culture and needs.”

Jakubowski’s first job will be to gain the confidence of Rose-Hulman’s faculty, students and staff. To earn their trust, he promises to start with a hands-off approach.

“I have to learn the culture,” he said. “Until I do, I don’t want to force anything on anyone at Rose-Hulman.”

Rose-Hulman seems eager to embrace its new leader. The school is ready to move on from last year’s atmosphere of “no confidence” votes and “You don’t know Jack” student rallies, said Art Western, dean of Rose-Hulman’s faculty. The search process satisfied everyone, Western said, because it produced a president who was already well-known in engineering circles.

“I haven’t heard a single disparaging remark on the faculty side,” Western said. “Jerry just seems to have that kind of relaxed, easygoing, unassuming personality that makes him enjoyable to work with.”

As warm as his welcome might be, Jakubowski will eventually face many of the same pressures Midgley did. For Rose-Hulman to burnish its reputation as one of the nation’s top engineering schools, Jakubowski will have to focus on finances at the 1,900-student private college.

He said he wants to increase revenue, not cut expenses. Jakubowski said he’ll start by meeting Rose-Hulman’s potential donors, then concentrate on growing its endowment.

Eventually, Jakubowski will be forced to consider Rose-Hulman Ventures, once the nation’s best-funded business incubator thanks to $60 million in gifts from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Last year, the longtime leaders of Rose-Hulman Ventures-Jim Eifert and Brij Khorana-resigned after Midgley reorganized it, citing concerns about its financial sustainability. The imbroglio opened a torrent of criticism that ultimately led to Midgley’s departure.

Jakubowski said he hasn’t made any decisions about Rose-Hulman Ventures yet. But like his predecessor Midgley, Jakubowski believes Rose-Hulman’s first order of business is to produce highly skilled graduates.

Nearly all the personal economic development experience Jakubowski cites boils down to interaction with industrial executives to assess their work force needs.

He talks about sharpening Rose-Hulman’s business class curriculum and creating opportunities for students to assist with corporate projects. At this point, he’s not proposing strategies to form startup companies from teams of students and professors, or making speculative investments on their emerging technologies.

“If students work on fictitious problems, they’re not really learning the real-world situation. That’s why it’s so very important to make sure there’s an educational component in Rose-Hulman Ventures,” he said.

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