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Q & A: The Visionaries

Convergence invited three leaders in academia, industry, and research to discuss the future of discovery and achievement at UC Santa Barbara. What emerged from their conversation was a shared notion that UCSB is poised to compete as a top institution in an increasingly global and cross-disciplinary research arena in science and technology.

Jeff Henley, Chairman of Oracle, spoke with Rod Alferness, Dean of the College of Engineering, and John Bowers, Director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency, about why he and his wife invested $50 million in engineering and the sciences at UCSB — and how this is the beginning of an era of re-investment in the UC system.

Alferness: Jeff, when you announced that gift you spoke with great passion about your view of the importance of the UC system, the importance of UCSB, and of engineering and science.

 

Henley: I do consider this an investment more than a gift. I went to school here in the 60s and worked 45 years so far in a career at seven companies, but my last 21 have been at Oracle. I’ve been in and out of tech as a business person. It’s been clear to me more and more over the years that virtually all the progress we’ve made since the Industrial Revolution has come through science and engineering.

There have been entrepreneurs who made an impact, changes in business models, and other factors. But underpinning all this, progress has been driven by science and engineering. And I think it’s going to continue.

Fortunately for the UC system, and for UC Santa Barbara specifically, we’ve always had great science and engineering programs. This is by far the largest investment I’ve made. It’s because I really do believe this is so important for the future of the world: To keep attracting, educating, and retaining top scientists and top engineers.

Remembering UC Santa Barbara in the 1960s

Alferness: Jeff, tell us about your days as a student at UC Santa Barbara.

Henley: I came here 50 years ago. My mom drove me up and dropped me off. I actually was going to go to the Air Force Academy. My dad had been in the service in World War II and so I just thought “gee, I should go to the AFA.” I was accepted and I had a medical problem, so I couldn’t go. And the only other place I had applied to was UC Santa Barbara. I’d never visited it. Back in those days you don’t do all those campus visits that you do today. It was a couple hundred miles from where I lived in Orange County, so it wasn’t that far away.

There's no place I would
have rather gone


Jeff Henley, on his undergraduate years at UCSB

I’ll never forget my mom driving me out to Ward Memorial Highway and dropped me off, I’m looking around on a nice, sunny September day and thinking “I think this is going to work out,” and it did. I never regretted my four years here. It was a phenomenal period. I think I actually got higher grades than I did in high school, so I was very motivated. I became a lot more intellectually stimulated going here. I made the Dean’s list my first semester and I graduated with Honors. But I guarantee you I had a great time, too.

Going away to school like that for four years, it’s a growing social experience as well as an intellectual challenge. I felt like I got a good balanced education and I’ve never regretted it. There’s no place I would have rather gone, so I was very lucky to fall into it and had a great experience.

What is your vision for the College of Engineering?

Jeff Henley, Rod Alferness and John Bowers speaking with each other

Henley: Rod, you’ve come to UCSB from a career in the high-tech industry. You’ve been here long enough now to know that you have some ideas about how you want to move the College of Engineering forward.

Alferness: My predecessors as deans, our supporters, and the faculty have brought the College of Engineering to a level of excellence in the country, and quite frankly, in the entire global community that we should all be very proud of. My job is to keep that on track, to drive further the excellence we’ve achieved in our departments. I believe engineers should address the grand challenges of society. They should be driven by curiosity, understanding, generation of knowledge, of how things work, how nature works. Then we should leverage that information and knowledge to solve real problems. We should also leverage one of the real assets of the campus, which is the collaborative spirit between engineering and the sciences, and potentially the social sciences.

Rounding that out is the ability to take our knowledge and innovation from academia and get it into products and services that benefit society. I believe that partnering with industry is something that we’re going to have to do more and more of, especially as funding from state and federal agencies becomes more limited. Part of my job is to help industry understand that they need us as much as we need them.

We need to attract the best engineers and scientists from around the world, bring them here as young researchers, and let them steer the path for where we should go. We need to produce the students of the future that are going to go out in the world and make a difference. Ultimately at UC Santa Barbara it’s the students that count.

Engineers in a Global Community

Alferness: My sense in coming from industry is that one of the areas that our graduates have to become more comfortable with is working in the global community. The competition is increasingly global. Our engineers will potentially work outside the borders of the U.S. and very often in large international teams. Jeff, have you seen that kind of phenomenon at Oracle?

I believe engineers should
address the grand
challenges of society.


Rod Alferness

Henley: Even in my 21 years at Oracle, it’s gotten much more that way. When I started, most of our engineers were in the U.S. Today, we have 30,000 developers and probably half of them are overseas. It’s a very global arena. There are a variety of reasons for it. It’s not just cost, it’s being able to operate and develop “24 by 7.” We’ve acquired some foreign companies. But I think it is going to be very competitive.

I think [the U.S. has] the greatest higher ed engineering and science programs in the world. Our higher ed is still our crown jewel. We educate a lot of foreign people that come over for undergraduate, especially graduate programs. I feel very strongly that we need to attract talent here in the U.S., encourage kids to get involved in math and science, but also keep bringing over those foreign students. I say “best and brightest: bring ‘em over.”

Most of these students come here for a variety of reasons. Many of them would like to stay. As a matter of public policy, I hope our government will solve this problem. Because oftentimes they can’t get a green card or a visa, which is a tragedy in terms of American public policy in being able to maintain our economic leadership and technical leadership in the world. I’m hoping that our government will do a better job in that area.

Our universities do a phenomenal job in training top talent for science and engineering. We better make sure we do a better job of hanging on to that talent.

Accelerating Energy Efficiency

Alferness: John, can you share your views about the research thrusts within the Institute for Energy Efficiency, its direction, and its importance both on campus and worldwide?

Bowers: The problem we have as a society is that we waste more energy than we use. So, there’s a great opportunity here to use our precious resources of oil and coal and other fossil fuels more efficiently. We’ve done this, in what is the best materials department in the country, using materials to solve the fundamental limitations. This started with a bunch of groups, but Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of the blue LED, is a good example of solving a fundamental problem that has led to breakthroughs in gallium nitride semiconductor technology.

We’ve gone on to a host of other materials, more efficient solar cells, such as the work with professors Alan Heeger and Guillermo Bazan. More importantly, we’re looking now at data centers and making data centers more energy efficient. We’re working closely with Oracle, Google, Hewlett Packard, and others to solve the problem. Some of that has been work like the hybrid silicon laser to solve the problem that silicon does not emit light.

Other examples are the great Solid State Lighting group is very constrained in terms of abilities to characterize new solid state LEDs. We have a big need to characterize solid state refrigerators and passive cooling systems. Our goal is to use these new laboratories [funded by the Henleys’ gift] to investigate that area. It’s going to have a huge impact.

The Institute has had a lot of great involvement with students. Engineers Without Borders and Unite to Light are two groups of people that taking these technologies and using them out in the world and we can really make things much better.

How Far Does an Investment Go?

Bowers: We have a lot of interest amongst faculty and students to work on energy and energy efficiency problems, but there is a distinct lack of space and it’s very expensive to take existing space and investigate new opportunities. And of course the space that’s made available in the new Henley Hall building will open up other space on campus.

Henley: Exactly. And we need more than this one building. It is a good start. We’re trying to get funding for a bioengineering building. There are several that if we can get these behind us — and it’s not all going to come from the state anymore — we need more private support. When people understand the quality of what we’re doing here, the impact of what we’re doing here, I think we’ll be able to raise the money.

I think the problem is people probably don’t realize it’s called the University of California, but in the current year [the State of California] is only going to provide a little more than 20% of the operating funds. That’s been diminishing as a percentage, obviously, a lot over the years. I don’t think it’s going to change.

The challenge for public universities across the country, not just California, is that they’re going to have to get better at the development that private universities have done for decades. We’re not going to solve this problem tomorrow. But it is a wake-up call for some. I don’t think some people fully recognize all the issues that all public universities face. We have a little more of a financial problem in California so it may be a little more acute here.

Hopefully we’re going to continue to educate our alumni, other people who are interested in seeing the UC system continue to do well. It truly is one of the crown jewels of California. It really is. We just can’t let it falter. We’ve got to keep moving it forward.

 

The Campaign for UC Santa Barbara celebrated a kickoff event on May 12, 2012 for the final phase of a $1 billion campaign with a special announcement of a $50 million gift by Jeff and Judy Henley to the College of Engineering and Institute for Energy Efficiency.

(1) Judy and Jeff Henley with Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree and UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang; (2) Light show during the ceremony held at Bren Hall; (3) Professors Shuji Nakamura and John Bowers; (4) Jeff Henley announces their gift to UCSB.

 
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