Dean Nader Jalili leads AI panels at ASEE Engineering Deans Institute

As a lead organizer of several sessions at ASEE event, Dean Jalili led important discussions on AI in higher education and shared best practices among new, seasoned and incoming deans

Dean Jalili at ASEE

Visionary leaders from engineering schools across the country convened at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Engineering Deans Institute (EDI) last month to discuss pivotal challenges facing their academic institutions and the engineering profession.

As a lead organizer for several sessions of the symposium, Nader Jalili, Ph.D., ASME Fellow, Mary and Richard Templeton Dean of Lyle School of Engineering, led discussions on navigating the impact and future trends of AI in higher education and how it can bridge academic research and industry expectations, as well as facilitated best practice sharing among new, seasoned, and incoming deans.

“Engineering Deans Institute provides academic leaders the opportunity to increase our effectiveness and discuss important issues related to the bold research landscape, education, reforms, initiatives, and other challenges that we can solve together,” Dean Jalili said.

AI in the classroom

Dean Jalili invited experts from academia to discuss the evolving landscape of AI in higher education, specifically within engineering programs, and how it can transform the learning experience.

“There was a lot of great discussion on challenges and barriers to adoption of AI,” Dean Jalili said. “Some faculty members push back because they believe it’s a fleeting trend. Others urge us to take advantage of it so that we don’t get left behind.”

The session covered how AI can revolutionize personalized learning and intelligent tutoring. Imagine a customizable avatar that is virtually available for students to study with and learn from at their own pace. The personal assistant would be based on deep learning and reactive experience so that it would adapt to the student’s preferences, personality, and learning style.

“We know the future is personalized learning,” Dean Jalili said. “What could be better than an assistant AI avatar that understands your learning habits, sees your deficiencies, and can adapt to you? As a professor, you can’t adapt to 20 different students’ rate of comprehension simultaneously.”

A bold shift toward immersive education

Dean Jalili speaks from experience on experimenting with personalized learning. In fall 2024, SMU Lyle is test piloting an immersive augmented reality experience for mechanical engineering courses. Students will use augmented reality tools to take some of their courses in virtual reality.

“There is a lack of one-on-one learning experience,” Dean Jalili said. “We’re putting students in an environment where they can actually be their own creator of the course and the way they want to learn.”

Similar to gaming, students would advance to different levels based on their learning pace. They can move ahead, move backward, or slow things down based on their preference. Even the scenery, environment, and appearance of the avatar professor can all be customized. By utilizing digital twin technology, students can invite others into their virtual environment and exist in a common classroom.

“Technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data science are fundamentally reshaping the way engineers work,” Dean Jalili said. “Lyle’s ambitious plan is to be at the forefront of this transformation.”

Bridging academia and industry

As AI continues to shape the landscape of engineering education, it is crucial to understand how academic research aligns with practical, real-world needs. A second AI panel at Engineering Deans Institute explored the dynamic relationship and interplay between academia and industry and the evolving expectations of skills and knowledge expected from graduates entering the workforce.

“Academia should lead industry because we have many innovative brains and a mindset that could help solve some of the futuristic problems we’re facing,” Dean Jalili said. “But in most cases, it’s the other way around – particularly in AI.”

The deans discussed the need to align with industry and utilize improvements and developments that can be brought back to the school to help shape curricula.

“For example, you can’t just design an industry-driven master’s program and expect it to be successful without understanding the needs,” he said.

Sharing best practices

Dean Jalili also took part in a Dean’s Forum that brought together new, seasoned, and incoming engineering deans to share experiences and advice on a variety of challenges. In particular, deans held a lot of discussions and shared best practices around balancing life with work demands.

“You have a lot of people who report to you and who need you, and you’re responsible to people above you, and also have a professional life that you want to grow into, and we always have a personal life,” he said. “Sometimes, you might have a flat tire, too. How do you manage it all?”

Deans shared helpful best practices such as calendar blocking to make time and space to accomplish work or reserving the last hour of the day to check off pressing tasks so they’re not taking a lot of work home with them. The session was designed for robust discussion and feedback.

“The symposium offered a valuable opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another,” Dean Jalili said.

About the Bobby Lyle School of Engineering
SMU's Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

About SMU
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.