Dean Rafael L. Bras
Dean Rafael L. Bras, Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was elected in 2001 to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. He also is a corresponding member of the National Academy of Engineering in Mexico. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

It’s been a busy few weeks for Rafael L. Bras, the new dean of UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering. He and his wife are settling in after his move from MIT to UCI. The prominent hydrologist and hydroclimatologist, who brings extensive expertise on water and the environment, discusses his early impressions of the campus and his plans for the future.

Q: Now that you’ve arrived on campus, what are your impressions of UCI?
A: The areas of excitement and excellence have been corroborated with my first impressions, and I am excited. The faculty and staff have been wonderful and very welcoming. I feel good; I am learning more than anything else.

Q: What is your vision for the school?
A: There is no question in my mind that we are going develop a fresh schoolwide strategic plan consistent with the objectives of the university.

With 108 faculty members and others, the Samueli School is in a period of growth. The school is small to medium-sized as far as engineering schools go, and we need to be quite strategic and focused about how the school approaches its progression. I’m taking for granted that we will grow – the question is how we accomplish this. Whatever we do, we have to do it very well. There have to be signature fields where we break through to the top ranks, although this doesn’t imply that we will not excel in other areas. That is just one way the Samueli School will achieve greatness.

Q: On which particular areas will you focus?
A: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, as they say – although we have a lot of rocket scientists here – to see there are some areas that are ripe for further development and potentially could be signature areas because of history, our location, and the experts and resources we have on campus. For example, the science and technology of human health, and in particular biomedical engineering, is an area of enormous importance where we have had great success. There are immense opportunities for collaboration with related resources on campus, such as the School of Medicine and the Beckman Laser Institute, and with local industry. Everything is in place for us to grow with excellence in this field. Similarly, we can imagine thrust areas in the science and technology of environmental health, sustainable energy systems, and communication, information and mobility systems.

Q: What do you want the school to accomplish under your leadership?
A: I want to achieve a couple of goals beyond simply building recognition of our excellence. I want to focus on educating students. We are going to be great by attracting the very best students because that is the mark of a great university. We have to focus on recruiting the best undergraduates and graduates – to make the Samueli School too compelling not to come. We have outstanding students, and the population of talented applicants out there is growing. To recruit more, we have to focus our activities on providing the best environment for students. How do we do that? Excellence of faculty, excellence of facilities, excellence of programs. You can never take your eye off the ball – the bottom line is excellence.