Celebrating Dean Richard Sweigard

Dean Richard SweigardIncrease. Development. Progress. Growth. Expansion. Enhancement. There are many ways to describe Dr. Richard Sweigard’s nine-year tenure as Dean of the Herff College of Engineering. When he started in June 2013, he said he wanted to increase the Herff College of Engineering’s positive impact on the region. Looking at what he has accomplished, he might be considered an overachiever.

When he came to the University of Memphis, Dr. Sweigard breathed new life into the faculty, staff and students of Herff. He had experience from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering that everyone believed would drive the college forward because he was considered “the bridge between our past, our present and the promise of our future.”

One promise for the future will come to fruition soon with the impending construction of the STEM Research and Classroom Building, a $41 million, 65,000 square-foot building that will provide the college that has grown and is bursting at the seams the space to spread out and allow for future growth and more effective recruiting. The new building will connect to the Engineering Science Building, going north to south at the corner of Central and Zach Curlin. It will include space for researchers from the College of Arts and Sciences, enhancing existing collaborative relationships.

“This is the first opportunity we have had, really in the history of the college, to design space specifically for research. That is going to make this space so much more amenable and is going to help us in attracting not only students but faculty as well,” Dean Sweigard said in a Daily Memphian article about the importance of updated facilities that are designed for research unlike previous facilities that were designed for classroom instruction.

Research growth is part of an aggressive, 10-year strategic plan that was created during his first year at Herff. A departure from previous strategies, the plan was fueled by the need to boost the number of engineering graduates in West Tennessee (which was two-thirds below the national average), drive state funding based on new performance-based metrics, adopt the University’s Responsibility Center Management policies, and contribute to the University of Memphis ambitious research goals.

The strategic plan had six objectives:

  1. B.S. Student Growth,
  2. Graduate Student Growth,
  3. Research Growth,
  4. Improved Talent Management,
  5. Increased Private Funding and
  6. Increased Visibility and Reputation

Driven by Dean Sweigard, that plan led to many Herff successes and milestones. Some of the highlights include,

  • Increased six-year graduation rate
  • Increased number of B.S. degrees awarded from 114 (academic year 2012-13) to 203 (academic year 2021-22)
  • Increased the number of M.S. degrees awarded from 31 (academic year 2012-13) to 43
  • Increased the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded from 6 (AY 2012-13) to 22 (AY 2021-22)
  • Increased the number of undergraduate students by 37% and B.S. degree completion by 50% between 2013 and 2018
  • Increased the number of first-time freshmen by 137% through recruitment efforts, the Herff Merit Scholarship program and other student success initiatives
  • Increased efforts to attract and recruit historically underrepresented student populations to make sure Herff is representative of the diverse community in which students will work and live; In 2020, the enrollment of African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American students at Herff was 30%, nearly double the national average for engineering colleges
  • Increased the student retention rate
  • Created the Engineering Living Learning Community, designated spaces for men and women in Centennial Place that provides a close-knit, caring community for engineering majors equipped with dedicated computer facilities, public spaces and study lounges
  • Honored with student services space on the third floor of Engineering Administration dedicated to him
  • Increased research funding from about $4.4 M in FY 2018 to about $9.2 M in FY 22; in FY 21, Herff faculty accounted for about 20% of total new research at the UofM
  • Drove the process to fund the STEM Research & Classroom Building, a $41 M, 65,000-square-foot research and classroom facility that will serve as a hub for STEM research, instruction and competition/exhibit space (groundbreaking planned for Fall 2022)

Slideshow honoring Dean Sweigard

About Dean Sweigard...

Dr. Joel Bumgardner

I am very glad of the support Dean Sweigard has shown me as Chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department. He has been a role model for how to respond in a thoughtful and intentional manner to unexpected or emotional situations. Learning this skill has been important in helping me grow and be effective as a Chair in working with faculty, staff and students and at steering the Biomedical Engineering Department through recent challenging times. I want to thank him for all he has done for the College and University and wish him well as he moves to the next stage of his life. 

Dr. Joel Bumgardner

Rick has been the most impactful Dean in the history of the Herff College of Engineering. His insight that by growing undergraduate enrollment and success, the college would grow its faculty and thus, research was prescient. His leadership and focus on those goals allowed us to accomplish much.

Dr. Ali Fatemi

Dean Sweigard hired me as the Chair of Mechanical Engineering department.  He not only honored all of the commitments he had made, but always supported me and my department in improving our educational and research programs.  At a personal level, I have always appreciated his humbleness and candor. He will be missed, and I wish him a long and happy retirement.

David Greganti

 Dean Sweigard, it has been an honor and privilege to serve under you these past 9+ years.  The college has gone through significant growth under your leadership, and it has been a privilege to be a part of the change. You have allowed me to grow personally and professionally during this time as well. You will be greatly missed in the college and at the university. I wish you all the happiness in your retirement.  

Kenneth Hoggan

Congratulations on retirement! I hope retirement is greater than you imagine! Thank you for everything! 

Dennis W. Koerner, Ph.D.

I have worked with Rick for a number of years. Like many others, I found Rick to be a brilliant, innovative, and thoughtful leader whose experience and strategic thinking took the Herff College of Engineering to the next level. We are all pleased to see all that he accomplished and his great success.  What impressed me the most about Rick was his wonderful perception and engagement skills.  Rick has the unique ability to build rapport with all types of people and uniquely tap into their strengths and expertise for the benefit of others.  I will miss working with Rick and am very grateful for all he has done to position the Herff College of Engineering for the future. 

Dr. Stephanie Ivey

Dean Sweigard, I have learned a lot from you and have appreciated your leadership over the last nine plus years. Thank you for your commitment to making Herff College a supportive environment for students and faculty! You will be missed! I know you will miss our Tuesday meetings, but maybe the lake house can ease the pain a bit... 🙂 

Dr. Shahram Pezeshk

Dr. Sweigard has been a great mentor, and I have learned a lot from him.  I have enjoyed brainstorming with him on how to solve various problems.  He always has a very thoughtful and insightful approach to solving problems. One remarkable characteristic of Dr. Sweigard is his consistency and following up on his promises.


We appreciate Dean Sweigard’s leadership in securing the funding for the new STEM Research and Classroom Building. 

Isaiah Surbrook headshot

I have had the privilege of working with Dean Sweigard since 2008. Looking back over the years a few things have remained true about Dean Sweigard. He has always been a proponent for students. He values student experiences both inside and outside the classroom. He wants what is best for students and those who work for him. I am thankful that he has allowed me to try various activities for recruitment and student life. How many other Deans would take a pie to the face for Pi Day or have all the Herff Merit scholars and engineering ambassadors over to his house for a cookout? On a personal level, Dean Sweigard has always encouraged me to grow professionally and academically. I am grateful for his leadership and my time spent working for him. I will always remember the one question he always asked me, whether it pertained to recruitment or student affairs, and that was simply, “what’s the goal?” Congratulations on your retirement!