A Conversation with Interim Dean Alex Couzis of the Grove School of Engineering

by mcjonsey

Dr. Couzis joined the Grove School of Engineering and the Chemical Engineering department in 1994 after years in industry and established an internationally recognized research program focused on the study of dynamic phenomena at the solid-liquid interfaces. Dr. Couzis now serves as the Interim Dean.

Priorities in engineering looking ahead

We need to be able to adapt to the continuously changing requirement that society requires, in order to solve the problems that it is engaged with, and also to train our students, to address those kinds of problems. There are three big bins I see ahead. The first is Energy, the second is Water and the third is Health. Energy is at the top of my list because without energy you cannot clean water. If you cannot have clean water, energy, you start struggling from a health perspective.


New York City and Municipal Waste

When you look at cities like New York, the amount of municipal garbage we generate is immense. The bigger utility to it is in two levels. One is in Energy. Can we burn it in a clean way and generate energy? But I think the bigger utility is in the mining of the garbage for valuable resources. When you think about garbage, think of this as a mine where there is copper, steel, cobalt, manganese, and so instead of drilling holes in the ground, in the earth, we learn how to do the same mineralogical processing on municipal waste to extract all of it and recycle it.

Hopefully, everything that we manufacture, we can recycle it. The GSOE especially because of its location in New York is a great experimental station for all of this. We have municipal waste and a population density second to none, we have to deal with health, with water, with energy. So, for being at the epicenter of this, we hope that GSOE will become the engineering resource for New York City and by extension, eventually for a lot of other metropolitan areas.

The role of the GSOE in the life and development of New York City
Our engineers have built this city.

Our civil and electrical engineers have built this city in terms of bridges, the subway system, the buildings, the infrastructural components, and the maintenance of the infrastructural components. The other aspect is that the city has been a fantastic resource for students.

At our external advisory board meeting a few weeks ago, I was in the presence of the two forefathers of the internet and I am at awe they are our own graduates. Robert Kahn and Leonard Kleinrock are graduates from CCNY. That is something amazing. When you think about the microelectronic industry, and you think about the contribution of Andy Grove, I would argue that we have had our finger in pretty much everything that shapes today’s society.


We are an amazing institution with incredible tradition and heritage and that is why I think that it is vital that we are able to continue it.


Continuing Evolution at the GSOE

We need to be able to evolve and improve. Our faculty have to continue to innovate on how we teach and how we do research. We need to be able to hire the best possible talent at the faculty level. We need to be able to identify early the best possible, diverse backgrounds as much as possible, bring them in and foster creativity.


The Student Experience at the GSOE

The student experience especially as the numbers increase is not just the interaction with the faculty. It is also the interaction with the staff, student advisers, the administrators the department secretaries. Most of our students are first-generation. This is a new experience for them. They have to feel wanted, that’s the most important thing. Everything we do has to cater to them realizing that we truly care about, and value them, as individuals, and the time they are putting in. That goes with selecting the right support staff that will help the students excel.


The Global Footprint

I am originally from Greece. I did my undergraduate studies in Greece. City College to me, even when I was an undergraduate in Greece, was a known entity. There were faculty members that people know about. The mission of the school was extremely well known and understood. So when you talk about today and City College, everybody recognizes the school. I do not think that has changed at all. When I talk to my other fellow professors or deans, people recognize City College, what they do not recognize is the association with CUNY. That is where things get very murky. But as City College, and the kind of faculty we have had and students we have generated, everybody gets it.


Responsibility as a school

We have to respect the time that the students put in. We have to respect the efforts that they put in. They are being challenged every minute of their lives at CCNY. We do not need to make it more difficult for them, the academics take care of that. We need to make sure that they do not have any obstacles so their experience has been one where they feel they can focus on what they need to do. I think that is extremely important. That to me is how you cultivate an ethos of always feeling close to your alma mater.


Our responsibility at the GSOE

I love the school. I think the school has purpose. I think it is our mission. Our objective has to be one where we are constantly working to improve it. That to me is the heritage of the school.


When I look at all the previous deans, when I look at the previous distinguished professors, all the distinguished students we have graduated that is the responsibility of the current faculty and staff — we owe it to them to continue improving the school.