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An Incredible Journey for SCSE’s Dean Jim Riehl

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An Incredible Journey for SCSE’s Dean Jim Riehl

Over his 14 years as dean to the Swenson College of Science and Engineering (SCSE), James P. Riehl facilitated growth and enhanced the strength of his college. UMD’s science and engineering programs have grown both in numbers and quality as a result. The future is bright, especially with plans for a new Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials (CSAM) building on the horizon. With that, Riehl has announced his retirement from the position on June 30, 2014.

Under Riehl’s leadership, SCSE research funding consistently came in at over $6 million per year, topping $9 million in 2012. The funds have come from sources such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

His career has been filled with accomplishments. From fall 2000 when he arrived at UMD, to this current year of 2014:

– Undergraduate enrollment grew from 2,051 students to 3,047
– Graduate enrollment grew from 142 to 301 students (110%)
– Number of degrees awarded grew from 298 to 552
– ACT scores climbed
– 18 additional tenure-track faculty were hired

Also, 12 new programs were added: seven undergraduate degrees, four masters degrees, and a Ph. D. degree. In addition, the number of chemistry majors has doubled, due in large part to the presence of the pharmacy program on campus.

“We have amazing and talented faculty,” Riehl said. “We’ve hired people with national reputations in research, and they are making significant contributions to the state and to the region.”

Faculty members have praise for Riehl in return. “Jim supported, encouraged, and helped us establish the Integrated Bioscience master’s degree and doctoral program,” said John Pastor, biology professor. This is UMD’s first Ph. D. offering. “If it wasn’t for Jim, it wouldn’t exist.”

Riehl’s collegial spirit and his varied interests are also appreciated. “Jim has a very strong interest in science writing for the public and in art, especially the paintings of Vermeer,” said Pastor. “He will be missed as a dean and colleague.”

While this is already a lengthy list of Riehl’s accomplishments and impact on UMD, it doesn’t end there. The massive growth couldn’t have taken place without new facilities, and Riehl’s hand guided the construction of two new buildings: the 110,000 square-foot, $33 million, Swenson Science Building in 2005 and the 34,000 square-foot, $15 million, Swenson Civil Engineering Building in 2010.

The Swenson Science Building

civil enginering
The Swenson Civil Engineering Building

Riehl acknowledges the assistance of many of UMD’s alumni and friends, especially James I. and Susan Swenson.

“Jim and Sue are inspiring,” said Riehl. “They have tremendous commitment to students. They made things happen. In addition to helping build two buildings, they provide full tuition to 32 chemistry majors every year.”

The scholarships are a game changer for UMD. “When you give a scholarship to a top student, it raises the bar for every class,” he said. “That top student teaches study habits and excitement about learning, and that’s just as valuable as a great professor.”

James Swenson also has a strong influence on Riehl. “Each year, Jim speaks to the freshman class in Romano Gym during orientation. He congratulates them on their choice to attend UMD. He lets students know UMD’s faculty members care and will help them succeed,” Riehl said.

nobel prize winner
Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Brian Kobilka (in 2012), Dean Riehl, and Chancellor Black

One of the topics brought to the attention of the SCSE External Advisory Board less than two years ago was the need for educational and research programs on polymers and composites. Around this same time, Riehl was also presented with an external review of the Chemistry building that indicated it was in dire need of an upgrade.(Originally called The Science Building until 1973, the current Chemistry building’s construction was completed in 1948 and was the first building on UMD’s current campus.)

That’s where the concept for the Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials (CSAM) building came into play. In addition to the need of newer, safer labs for students and faculty, alumni and industry experts urged UMD to consider adding educational and research programs in material science and engineering.

“The next decade will be the decade of materials,” Riehl said. “It also makes sense that we develop expertise and programs in materials, since many local companies are working in this area.”

riehlProfessionals from companies including Cirrus, BendTec, and Enbridge have indicated a materials engineering building and program would be a big step in providing the region with talented people and equipment. “The Cirrus aircraft firm just flew a new personal jet,” Riehl said. “We need to support this industry and other local companies with faculty expertise and modern instrumentation for fabrications and testing.”

This new building will also allow the Swenson College of Science and Engineering to recruit additional faculty and admit new students. “We are completely full,” said Riehl. In both the science and engineering departments, there is no space to accommodate research labs for new faculty. With the addition of the CSAM building, Riehl estimates that there would be room for an additional 250 STEM students.

“Our country and our state need to respond to the increasing need for talented engineers and scientists. This is critical for the continued economic growth of Northeast Minnesota,” Riehl said.

“I’m leaving the Dean’s office on a high note,” said Riehl. “It’s been an incredible journey.”

Riehl only sees good things ahead for the SCSE and UMD. “UMD has the drive and the momentum. It has talented dedicated faculty members and supportive administration. It’s poised for growth in numbers and stature.”

Riehl looks forward to returning to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty on a half-time basis, finishing two books that he has been working on, and getting back to teaching.

Who will be taking on the role of dean to the Swenson School of Science and Engineering after Riehl? Click-over to our recent blog post and find out!



Riehl hails from Philadelphia. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Villanova University in 1970 and his Ph.D. degree from Purdue University in 1975. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia with Professor F.S. Richardson, he joined the faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He joined the faculty at Michigan Tech University in 1993 as professor and chemistry chair. He has held visiting appointments at Kings College, London and the University of Leiden, The Netherlands. In 1992, he received the St. Louis Award from the American Chemical Society. In 2004, he received the Gold Medal from the University of Wroclaw Poland to honor 15 years of collaborative research and education programs. In 2004, he received the title of 3M McKnight Presidential Leadership Chair at the University of Minnesota.

Riehl is the author or coauthor of more than 100 research publications. His work has been published in more than 25 articles and one book since he came to UMD, all while Riehl led SCSE. Riehl has been invited to lecture through the U.S. and has given more than 30 lectures in 15 foreign countries. He is recognized by the international scientific community as an expert in the use of optical spectroscopy to probe the structure of “chiral” molecules. These are molecules, which may occur in non-superimposable mirror-image forms. Almost all biological molecules and pharmaceuticals are chiral, and an understanding of the relationship between chiral molecular structure and biological function is of fundamental interest to chemists and biologists.