Meet Dean Kyle Squires
Kyle Squires is the Dean of the largest engineering school in the country and an expert engineer in the field of computational modeling.
But how did his engineering journey unfold? What got him to where he is today?
For Squires, the answer is simple: by taking one step at a time.
His first step, taken as a teenager, was showing an interest in his father’s work as a civil engineer for the Department of Energy.
In high school he found he possessed an aptitude and interest in some of the foundational engineering skills: math and science.
“As a young adult I got on the engineering path, and the more I discovered, the more I liked it,” says Squires.
His engineering journey didn’t start with a grand epiphany, but simply a single step. And it continued in a similar way — one step after another.
His next step led him to Washington State University for an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. While a student he became intrigued with the work of one of the faculty members who was a prominent international researcher in multi-phase flows.
“As an undergraduate I didn’t understand the significance of what all his research meant, but I understood enough to have my curiosity sparked,” he says.
This initial interest in the thermal sciences area of mechanical engineering and computer modeling has carried Squires throughout his career.
He says taking something he was good at, like math and science, and using it to “create something that addresses a need or solves a problem” attracted him to engineering.
He’s always been interested in the role of an engineer as a “maker,” particularly as a creator of new knowledge.
“This was the case for me as an undergraduate and still is today. Making something new and different that leads to a new discovery is compelling,” he says.
Squires finished his undergraduate degree more motivated than ever to continue asking questions and solving problems.
“I distinctly remember realizing that I still didn’t know enough. I liked engineering, but I knew I need more breadth and depth and that there was a lot more to learn and do. All I can claim that I really understood was that I needed to keep learning,” says Squires.
During this period, Squires applied to graduate schools and also for an Office of Naval Research fellowship. The fellowship was pivotal because it turned into a ticket to any university in the country.
He sought guidance from professors and engineers he knew as he tried to decide where to take this next step. This resulted in directing his focus to graduate programs at Stanford University.
“During this period, I spoke with a WSU alumni who graduated from Stanford,” says Squires, “We had a powerful conversation and that was a key step in my decision to attend graduate school there. I saw an opportunity, I took another step, and continued exploring.”
In graduate school Squires really began to connect the dots, and to see a recognizable course looking both forward and backward.
“While surrounded by extremely bright students and faculty in graduate school I began to realize the possibilities presented by a graduate education and research and how powerful that knowledge can be,” he says.
“I had followed an engineering path because it felt both fulfilling and interesting to me, and in graduate school I began to really see the rewards of my engineering journey,” Squires says.
One year away from earning his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, Squires decided to delay graduation to go to Japan for a research exchange sponsored by the NSF Japan Society for the Promotion of Science program.
“I knew I was delaying my degree, but I had a feeling that the opportunities presented by conducting research abroad could impact my career and life experiences for the better,” he says.
He says he didn’t know how or if it would all pay off, but that’s how decisions sometimes go.
It also parallels Squires’ approach to engineering research, and the reality that you don’t always know where research will lead you from the onset.
“However, I’ve found that if the problem you face appears challenging in makeup and rich in opportunities, you will always be rewarded even if your initial approach turns out to not pan out,” he says.
Squires ended up meeting his wife, Kayoko, during that year abroad. He also gained valuable experience working at a government research laboratory, and made connections that have led to visiting appointments at various Japanese universities.
“I believe as a young person, you’ve got to take your shot when the moment arrives. Young adults are in a position to go off and see the world, and learn and experience all that there is, which can improve you as a person and be utterly important to where ever your future takes you,” he says.
Squires has gone on to apply his engineering knowledge to improving the aerodynamics of aircraft, ground vehicles and sports equipment.
Reflecting on his engineering journey, Squires finds his relationships and interactions with other engineers have proved most meaningful.
“There are a handful of brilliant people who I am amazed and humbled to have been able to connect with. The opportunity to initially learn from them and then contribute as a partner to whatever we were working on has really shaped me,” says Squires.
Now as Dean of the Fulton Schools, Squires enjoys continued interactions with students and colleagues.
“I get to interact with students and colleagues to do the same thing that my mentors and past colleagues did for me: make an impact and help guide them along in their journey,” says Squires.
Each summer when he attends E2, the Fulton School’s innovative orientation experience, he sees himself in the students beginning their undergraduate journey.
“A lot changes from generation to generation — students today are far more worldly than I was when I was in their shoes — but fundamentally, they have the same anxieties concerning moving out of their homes and starting something new that I once felt,” says Squires.
He says the core transformation of a young student approaching adulthood is a timeless experience that comes with an understandable nervousness, but also excitement.
“They’re at the beginning of their journey and one of our jobs as educators is to help guide them so that they are learning and making informed decisions, helping them ‘turn over stones’, and take their own steps,” he says.
All in all, he says his engineering journey has been part following his instincts and inherent talents, and part making informed decisions. But it also included a dose of “go for it” without hesitation.
“Just like there’s more than one way to solve a problem, there’s more than one way to find your path as an engineer,” says Squires, “And my way has been rewarding.”