Dr. W. Kent Fuchs oversees the Ivy League's largest engineering program with a $220-million dollar budget and an unusual curriculum vitae. His academic achievement includes the impressive engineering degrees and leadership stints at various universities expected of his position. But Dr. Fuchs also holds a master of divinity. Years ago a wise pastor convinced him that everyone should attend seminary regardless of their career plans.
"I'm very, very glad I went to seminary," says Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering at Cornell University. "I gained knowledge that I could not have picked up on my own about church history and theology. The breadth of the M.Div. is really quite powerful. It's enabled me to be more involved in teaching and leadership at church. And then there are the practical skills I gainedpublic speaking, effective teaching, and counseling."
The journey to seminary began in the 1970s in Durham, North Carolina. A local pastor welcomed students from nearby Duke University into his home on Wednesday nights. Fuchs was among the group of one hundred students who listened to Dr. Richard Henderson. Henderson also pressed the high achieving, ambitious group to pursue seminary before they pursued anything else.
Fuchs and several others from that weekly fellowship heeded his advice. After graduating from Duke with a double major in electrical engineering and computer science, Fuchs moved to Illinois to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
"If I were a better preacher, I'd be in a different career now," Fuchs says. In a homiletics class at Trinity, Fuchs realized God had plans for him to teach instead of preach. He kept bringing out transparencies on the overhead projector to use in his student sermons. "I was near the bottom of my classI was terrible at preaching. But I was a good educator. I thought maybe I'd work in a university with college students." He went on to do just that, earning his masters and Ph.D. in electrical engineering at a Midwest school, joining that university's faculty for 11 years. He then headed another well-respected engineering school before taking over Cornell's program in 2002.
God also changed Fuchs' personal life at seminary. He met another academically minded student named Linda, who soon became his wife. Looking back, Linda sees how seminary helped her husband's career. "Even in the academic orientation of the M.Div., you still have the sense that you're working toward the development of people, and that's something Kent uses all the time. I think what Cornell appreciates about him is his skill working with people, helping people to get along with each other."
Linda earned her master of arts with a concentration in New Testament. She's now completing doctoral work at Cornell in early Christian art.
In his current leadership role at Cornell, the 51-year-old Fuchs oversees 248 professors, teaching 4,000 engineering students. Colleagues and students often comment on his M.Div. degree, unusual for an Ivy League engineer who researches topics like "dependable computing" and "failure diagnosis of integrated circuits." Another Christian professor in the College of Engineering says Fuchs "has not given up on being a regular guy who cares about Christ even though he has made great academic achievements professionally."
Fuchs's Christian faith shapes the advice he gives students on how to best use their engineering education. "We want to use engineering to help people in disadvantaged communities around the world, to use technology to solve problems, to provide water, shelter and energy
to solve health issues, and information technology needs. As I tell high school students thinking about what they want to study, 'Don't just be an engineer to work with gadgets. Help people worldwide.'"
As dean, Fuchs provides funding, support, and course credit to students serving in a nonprofit group called Engineers for a Sustainable World. The group's past projects include improving waste management in a city in Panama and developing power systems for rural areas in Africa.
This trained theologian also finds opportunities for deeper relationships and faith discussions with the school's 1,200 doctoral students. One Chinese doctoral student became a Christian before returning home.
"I can provide an environment where faculty and students can be successful. My role is to serve other people. That's the joy of working in education."
(Information taken by permission from an original article by Trinity International University © 2006)