Graduate Students are No. 1 for Dick Fairley

10/25/02    Portland, Ore.

OGI School of Science & Engineering dean atypical

With his gray ponytail and beard, Dick Fairley doesn't look like a typical graduate school associate dean. But then again, the former software engineer with the warm smile and mild manner doesn't work for a typical graduate school.

Fairley, 65, stepped into the No. 2 slot at OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering last month as associate dean for graduate education. In that role, he is overseeing student recruitment and student services for the 40-year-old research and education institution.

"My goal is to increase the number of students, the quality of students who enroll, and the breadth of student services we're providing," said the Beaverton, Ore., resident.

For example, the School of Science & Engineering already has one Fulbright Scholar amongst its roster of current full-time master's and doctoral students -- quite an accomplishment for a school with just 200 fulltime students. Fairley hopes to boost the School of Science & Engineering's visibility amongst Fulbright Scholars in hopes of luring others to the Hillsboro, Ore., campus.

"Besides word-of-mouth, the Web is the main way that students hear about us," says Fairley. "So we're in the process of rebuilding our Web site (www.ogi.edu) to make it more accessible for potential graduate students, particularly for those from other countries.

About 95 percent of full-time OGI School of Science & Engineering students were born in other countries; half of those are from China and India. Fairley also plans to hold more program-specific open houses to draw students who are interested in highly focused topics or may be working professionals with a scientific or engineering background who are looking for a career change.

"Many of our faculty are doing research at the frontiers of science -- Internet-based computing, biologically-inspired computing, biomedical engineering -- and we have top faculty in such areas as functional programming, nanotechnology, and environmental science," said Fairley. "In our open houses, we try to focus on some of these key areas to draw additional talented students."

In addition to its 200 full-time master's and doctoral students, the OGI School of Science & Engineering draws about 400 part-time students every year who take classes for credit.

Not-for-credit courses also are offered through the school's Center for Professional Development, and about 1,400 people take those each year.

"I'm always disappointed when someone hasn't heard about our school," said the dedicated Fairley. "People in the scientific and research communities are well-acquainted with us, of course, but not the average person. I'd like to help change that because we have long been making a difference in this community, in Oregon and in the nation."

For example, the School of Science & Engineering awards more than 20 percent of Oregon's advanced high-tech degrees. In 2000 more than half of the doctoral degrees in Oregon in electrical engineering and computer science -- the two fields most relevant to the high-tech industry -- were granted by the School of Science & Engineering.

"One of the best things about our school is that we can be flexible and make decisions very quickly," says Fairley. "The small size (within the larger OHSU) is great for collaborating across disciplines. And we really have good people here."

A Missouri native, Fairley joined the U.S. Air Force at 17 and was trained to be an electronics technician. After his stint in the Air Force, Fairley decided to go back to school and received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Missouri.

Fairley worked in industry for a few years, picking up a master's degree in electrical engineering along the way. In 1967, he went back to school to obtain his doctoral degree, this time at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

It was during his doctoral work at UCLA that Fairley became fascinated with software and changed his major from computerized control systems to computer science.

"You have to remember, this was the late 1960s," said Fairley, with a chuckle. "People said I was crazy to change my major because there were few computer science departments in the country, no government positions in computer science, and no openings in industry because the field was so young."

Fairley's first position after receiving his doctoral degree in 1971 was at the University of Colorado, which had just received a National Science Foundation grant to establish a computer science department. Fairley became one of the college's first assistant professors in computer science. He later taught at Texas A&M University, Colorado State University, Wang Institute of Graduate Studies and George Mason University.

Over the years, Fairley researched many aspects of software engineering, writing scores of books, papers, and video scripts. During the 1990s, he was founder and principal associate of Software Engineering Management Associates for seven years, which gave him a good idea of what industry was looking for in employable scientists and engineers.

Fairley had long known about the OGI School of Science & Engineering's computer science department. While dean of computer science at Colorado Technical University, he heard about a newly-created position as head of the School of Science & Engineering's software engineering program and representative to the Oregon Master of Software Engineering Program (a collaborative program among the four major universities in Oregon). He jumped at the opportunity to be involved in building a program from scratch.

Fairley and wife, Mary Jane, (a University of Portland computer science professor) originally intended to stay in Oregon only two or three years, but during the past five years have grown to love the state and its focus on the outdoors.

In his off time, Fairley rides his Harley Davidson motorcycle, downhill skis, reads history and listens to jazz. Though he doesn't do nearly as much day-to-day research or teaching these days, spending more time in meetings and with students, he remains involved in software engineering. In fact, in 2002, Fairley received a commendation from the IEEE Computer Society (the nation's top computer society) for co-developing a software development certification exam that is expected to become the standard by which software engineers will become certified software development professionals (http://computer.org/certification).

"I think increasing the quality and quantity of the student body here is very doable," said Fairley. "Most importantly, I feel like I'm in a position to not only train future researchers, but to also contribute to the local, regional, and national economies by helping to educate people with the kind of skills needed by high-tech industries."

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