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Global Engineering Executive and Engineering Educator Named New Rose-Hulman President

March 4, 2013

The Rose-Hulman Board of Trustees has named global engineering executive and former engineering educator James C. Conwell, PhD, PE, as the institute’s new president, according to an announcement today by Board of Trustees Chairman William Fenoglio. Conwell will begin his role as the institute’s 15th president on May 1, 2013.

          Conwell - new president
  Dr. James C. Conwell

Conwell most recently served as Vice President of Jacobs Engineering Group (NYSE: JAC), one of the world’s largest and most diverse providers of engineering and technical services to primary markets including automotive, defense, mining, oil/gas, aerospace, and pharmaceuticals.

In addition to his successful and entrepreneurial leadership at Jacobs, a Fortune 500 company, Conwell’s background also includes teaching undergraduate engineering at Vanderbilt University, Louisiana State University and Grove City College.

“Dr. Conwell’s background, spanning engineering business leadership and engineering education, uniquely prepares him to lead Rose-Hulman toward our vision of inspiring and preparing our graduates for lives of purpose and success, defining, and solving the problems of a complex global society,” says Fenoglio.

“During the Board’s review of presidential finalists, the Rose-Hulman strategic plan was central to the trustees because it is key to Rose-Hulman’s future—to our greater outreach to the global community that we serve, to enhance global awareness of Rose-Hulman, and to the growth of material resources that support our mission and vision,” continues Fenoglio. “In recent years, Rose-Hulman has built an increasingly strong campus team of academic and staff leaders and resources, setting the stage for the greater outreach that Dr. Conwell will lead.”

In looking forward to his new role, Conwell states: “I share a common aspiration with Rose-Hulman: a knowledge and passion that meeting the next wave of global challenges will require strong technical, creative thinkers who can work with diverse groups to bring results and solutions.” He adds, “I believe Rose-Hulman is uniquely positioned to help shape the next generation of scientific and engineering problem solvers with the institute’s environment of individualized student attention and support.”

Conwell said he is excited to work with a proven team of outstanding educators and leaders, and carrying their message of excellence to the employers, friends, and supporters who depend upon future generations of innovators. “I am thrilled to both learn and work together to resource and implement the Rose-Hulman strategic plan,” Conwell continues. Rose-Hulman’s newly created strategic plan has themes around preparing the nation’s top students for a global marketplace, dealing with complexity and innovative problem solving.

After receiving both his bachelor and master of science degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Conwell became a senior engineer for Procter & Gamble manufacturing in 1983. He continued his education, earning a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, where he was recognized with awards for his teaching in the College of Engineering. 

He moved in 1990 to Louisiana State University, where he was associate professor of mechanical engineering, continued to receive teaching recognition, and developed a funded center for assistive technology for disabled individuals, advised senior design projects, and earned patent recognition for his designs in the process. 

In 1993, Conwell became the chairman of the department of mechanical engineering at Grove City College, a small private school of about 2,000 predominantly undergraduate students in Pennsylvania. He led the accreditation efforts ofboth the mechanical and electrical engineering departments there, and continued one of his special interests by developing a senior design program focused on assistive aids for the disabled.

In addition to academic activities, Conwell had the opportunity to work with Sverdrup Engineering, a company known over the world for its wind tunnel design expertise. He became a Sverdrup engineering manager, transitioning from academia to an executive career path.

Conwell started up and helped lead a specialized business unit in Sverdrup to design and build test facilities, including wind, thermal and other environments for the automotive industry. Sverdrup merged into Jacobs Engineering. In 1999, Conwell became vice president of the Jacobs Engineering Group in Southfield, Mich., responsible for all activities of this full-services engineering unit. Starting the unit as one of three original members, Conwell and his team grew the business to a workforce of more than 400 with revenues exceeding $100 million annually. Conwell’s responsibilities included all engineering operations, business development, marketing and public relations, contract negotiation, quality, budget development and management, and staff recruitment, development and retention.

Conwell has led his Jacobs team to record financial performance for each of the past five years. One of the more creative aspects of Conwell’s leadership has been establishing a series of new types of relationships with automotive manufacturers, growing a substantial business in market niches and services that did not previously exist.  

The presidential search was a national, nine-month process. “The Rose-Hulman strategic plan, the alumni community and the campus community were all vital to this search,” says Search Committee Chair William Schindel, who is also a trustee and an alumnus.

Both President-Elect Conwell and Board Chairman Fenoglio expressed their special recognition of the outstanding contribution of Interim President Rob Coons, who stepped in and served the institute after the untimely death of President Matt Branam last April. “Over the years, Rob Coons has been a loyal and strong leader for Rose-Hulman in his various roles within our institute,” says Fenoglio. “Rob kept the business and the vision of the institute moving forward at a very positive pace and, most notably, took the lead with the strategic plan drafting during his tenure as interim president.”

Conwell adds, “I am very pleased to announce the promotion of Rob Coons to the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, a new senior role that will include responsibility for implementation of the strategic plan. I look forward to working together with Rob and the rest of the campus leadership team.”

James Conwell is married to Angela Conwell, who is a mechanical engineer. They have two grown children. In his spare time, Conwell enjoys flying as an instrument-rated private pilot.