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Dean James P. Riehl to Retire After 14 Years

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Dean James P. Riehl to Retire After 14 Years

Over his 14 years at UMD, James P. Riehl has facilitated the growth and enhanced the strength of the Swenson College of Science and Engineering (SCSE). Now, he has announced he will be retiring as dean on June 30, 2014.

During his tenure, Riehl set high standards for faculty and student success and worked hard to promote innovative and effective teaching and world-class research and scholarship. As a result, UMD’s science and engineering programs have grown both in numbers and quality. The future is bright, especially with plans for a new Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials (CSAM) building on the horizon.

Under Riehl’s leadership, SCSE research funding has consistently come 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.

Riehl’s career has been filled with accomplishments. When he arrived at UMD in the fall of 2000 to this past year (2014), undergraduate enrollment grew 49 percent from 2,051 to 3,047 students and graduate enrollment grew 110 percent from 142 to 301 students. The number of degrees awarded grew 85 percent from 298 to 552; ACT scores climbed; and 18 additional tenure-track faculty were hired. Also, 12 new programs were added: seven new undergraduate degrees, four masters degrees, and a Ph.D degree. In addition, the number of chemistry majors has doubled, due in a large part to the presence of the pharmacy program on campus.

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

Swenson Building
The Swenson College of Science and Engineering on UMD’s campus.

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 and if it wasn’t for Jim, it would not exist.”

Riehl’s collegial spirit and his varied interests are also appreciated. “Jim has a 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 impact and accomplishments, it doesn’t end there. The massive growth couldn’t have taken place without new facilities, and Riehl’s hand guided UMD’s construction of two new buildings: the 110,000 square-foot, $33 million, Swenson Science Building in 2005 (pictured above) and the 34,000 square-foot, $15 million, Swenson Civil Engineering Building in 2010.

Riehl acknowledges the assistance of many of UMD’s alumni and friends, especially James I. and Susan Swenson. “Jim and Sue are inspiring,” Riehl said. “They have a 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,” said Riehl. “That top student teaches study habits and excitement about learning, and that’s just as valuable as a great professor.”

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

nobel prize winner
L to R: Nobel Prize recipient Brian Kobilka with Dean Riehl and UMD Chancellor Lendley C. Black.

Less than two years ago the SCSE External Advisory Board met, and one of the topics brought up 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 indicating that it was in dire need of an upgrade. That’s where the concept came for the Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials (CSAM) building. 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 great sense that we develop expertise and programs in materials, since many local companies are working in this area.” Professionals 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,” said Riehl. “We need to support this industry and other local companies with faculty expertise and modern instrumentation for fabrication and testing.”

This new building will also allow the Swenson College of Science and Engineering to recruit additional faculty and admit more students. “We are completely full,” Riehl says. 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,” Riehl says. “This is critical for the continued economic growth of Northeast Minnesota.”

sketch of the civil engineering building
The sketch of UMD’s Swenson Civil Engineering Building, built in the fall of 2008.

“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.

clas of 1959 50t reunion
L to R: SCSE Dean Jim Riehl, Jim Swenson, Prof. James C. Nichol, Ken SOlie, and Jeanette Darland Solie at the Class of 1959 50th Reunion.


It was announced at the beginning of May that Dr. Josh Hamilton will begin on June 16 as the new Dean of Swenson College of Science and Engineering. Dr. Hamilton comes to UMD from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts where he served from 2008-2013 as the Chief Academic and Scientific Officer. In this role, he oversaw five research Centers and Programs and all educational and outreach programs. He received his Ph. D. in Toxicology and MS in Genetics from Cornell University and his BS in Biology from Bridgewater College in Massachusetts. He was a faculty member at the Dartmouth Medical School from 1990-2008, Senior Scientist with the Marine Biological Laboratory from 2008 to present, and held a Professor appointment at Brown University from 2010 to present. Dr. Hamilton has an extraordinary record of funded research along with well over 70 published journal articles. He has awards in both teaching and research.


Article written by UMD’s External Affairs