Steven W. McLaughlin
Georgia Institute of Technology
Steve Chaddick School Chair and Professor
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Steven W. McLaughlin received the B.S.E.E. degree from Northwestern University, the M.S.E. degree from Princeton University, and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan. He joined the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech in 1996 where he is now Steve W. Chaddick School Chair for the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
From 2007-2012 he was Vice Provost for International Initiatives and Steven A. Denning Chair in Global Engagement. As Vice Provost he was responsible for Georgia Tech’s global engagement in research, education, and economic development. He was a Ken Byers Professor from 2005-2012 and was previously Deputy Director of GT Lorraine. He was awarded the honor Knight of the National Order of Merit from the Republic of France in 2011. He co-founded CREATE-X, a campus-wide effort to instill entrepreneurial confidence in students and help them launch companies. In its first three years the program has successfully launched 72 student-led companies and engaged 1100+ students in the principles and practice of evidence-based entrepreneurship.
He was the first Georgia Tech recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 1998, and was President of the IEEE Information Theory Society in 2005. His research interests are in the general area of communications and information theory and has published in the areas of coding and signal processing for wireless communications, physical layer security, quantum key distribution and data storage. He co-founded Whisper Communications and has published more than 250 papers and holds 36 US patents.
More from Steven McLaughlin:
In your current and previous leadership roles, what has been the most effective way for you to understand and serve the needs of faculty and students?
One word: Listen. In the School of ECE with 250 faculty and staff and 2400 students, it is not always possible to engage as personally as you would like. The needs range from strategic issues like developing curriculum, supporting research, and managing limited resources and space, to more personal issues our School community faces like family, health, career, and retention. To have any chance of engaging in a personal and meaningful way, it’s necessary to work within a framework, and my framework is built around listening. The most effective way to understand the needs of our faculty and students is to genuinely listen, to develop and tend to a culture where transparency and communication are strong, and to assemble a team that serves.
For me, listening means: be available, be genuine, be timely.
Be available. This means taking every request for a meeting, answering email as quickly as possible, and working with a great team to create a welcoming office. Because faculty meetings for a school our size have limited effectiveness, we are trying a new approach to draw faculty in. We also have monthly faculty/student lunches that have been very popular, and monthly Chair/student leader lunches. We are trying every way we can find to connect.
Be genuine. In these face-to-face meetings, we strive to be authentic and genuinely open. Some of these conversations are difficult, so being truly present and transparent is critical.
Be timely and act. This means not only acting on time, but following up with decisions and an explanation how the decision came about. Collegiality is the basis of much of what we do, so having leaders who truly understand their role is to serve is critical. Actions always speak louder than words.
What do you see as the most critical issue for engineering education in the future?
Once, we might have said technology plays an important role in addressing the world’s greatest challenges. Today, it is clear that technology is at the center of solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. A technologically literate society with leaders who understand the interplay between science, technology, and business -- and their societal impacts -- is essential if we are to thrive. For this reason, making a high-quality engineering education accessible and affordable to as broad a population as possible is the most critical issue I see today.
For the students who make their way to our campus, we do an incredible job; these students have many amazing opportunities. But what about the students who do not or cannot become part of our community? How do we get to parity for women and men in engineering? How do we get minority student representation to be fully reflective of society as a whole and ensure the most diverse perspectives are brought to bear – in terms of race, gender, intellect, economic, and the partners with whom we collaborate? This diverse community naturally leads to greater opportunities to work across disciplines, a broader set of partners, a deeper commitment to collaboration, and teams that have a more expansive view of solutions. In short, it leads to better outcomes and impact. Without greater accessibility to an engineering education our society will fall short of the technological literacy and leadership we need in the generations ahead.
What’s something we wouldn’t know about you from your CV?
What’s not on my CV is our family’s path and my own personal journey in finding a more public voice about our experiences. The three of us come from different places: the US, Canada, Guatemala. Our family members have different strengths: math, medicine, design. We are proud of the blended, multiracial, and globally-centered family that Mary, Will and I have built, continue to nurture, and want to share.
For me, finding my voice is about honestly and genuinely sharing our experiences rather than engaging in the merely political. We are two parents, who until five years ago had never before faced, but now understand, the importance of looks, look-alikes, and don’t-look-alikes. We are two parents who until five years ago had never faced, or understood, how different the path from thirteen to eighteen can be for many young men. We are two parents who dozens of times have answered the polite question “Two in your party?” with “no, the three of us are together.”
We have come to understand how, in daily conversation, good, well-meaning, and caring people can be worn out from the media’s drumbeat around race, color, and religious differences and conclude that “in America we’re past this.” But in our house, we see first-hand how “little” things can have very, very big effects on people. We have learned that unintentional hurts still hurt. We have learned that diversity – in a family or a school or a community – is not free of challenge or sacrifice for those at the center of it. In my role as Chair, I have tried to turn this very personal energy into action through creating an exceptional and diverse leadership team, working successfully to increase the number of women in ECE, and co-leading a campus-wide initiative on diversity and inclusion.