Yaw D. Yeboah, the new dean of the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering, has a way with small talk.
Amicable, polished and easygoing, he motions for a visitor to sit directly across from him for better conversation.
Yeboah — who hails from Penn State, where he headed the energy and mineral engineering department — quickly explains that he has been in town just a short time. Yet he and his wife have already explored nearby Wakulla Springs State Park and glimpsed Florida's teeming alligator population. He loves music ('70s and '80s rock are favorites), tennis, soccer, Sunday drives and dancing with his wife, Julia.
But beyond the engaging exterior lies a powerful story of hard work, talent and dedication — and grace.
Yeboah, who officially took over as dean July 1, grew up in Ghana, a small country in western Africa, bordered by the Ivory Coast to the west and Togo to the east.
One of eight children raised by illiterate parents, Yeboah spent his childhood in the Ashanti region of Ghana, known for its rich history and agricultural and mining industries. He was educated in Ghana's public school system, but his mother guided his "spiritual life and faith." His father died while he was in high school, but Yeboah's brother, Isaac, encouraged him to stay focused academically. His teachers, some of whom were Americans and former Peace Corp volunteers, pushed him to look abroad for a top-tier college education.
Gifted in math, physics and chemistry, Yeboah eventually earned a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1975, he became the first MIT student to ever earn four degrees in four years — bachelor's degrees in management, chemistry and chemical engineering, and a master's degree in chemical engineering practice. He earned a doctorate in chemical engineering in 1979, also from MIT.
He began his career at the General Electric Corporate Research and Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y. Yeboah later joined the historically black Clark Atlanta University, where he built an engineering program as an associate dean and served for nearly a decade as the school's technical director of the Research Center for Science and Technology. At Penn State, he served as the head of the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy, where he oversaw engineering degree programs in energy, environmental systems, mining and petroleum, and natural gas.
Yeboah said that he was initially drawn to the dean's position at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering because of the "uniqueness" of the arrangement between the two schools: "It was attractive and irresistible — like combining my work at Clark Atlanta and Penn State."
He's the fifth leader of the jointly operated engineering college, which enrolls approximately 2,250 undergraduate and 300 graduate students annually. Yeboah's passions include teaching and research, which are deeply rooted in Florida State's mission as an institution.
An ardent reader, he is currently engrossed in the latest book by Daniel Yergin, who won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power," a nonfiction account of the historical discovery and evolution of oil. Yeboah liked the book so much, in fact, that while he was at Penn State he developed a general education course based on it.
"The ultimate goal of academic programs, in addition to training and educating students," he said, "is to positively impact the business and general community at large."
Yeboah hopes to accomplish that goal at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. He's definitely walked the walk, most notably at GE, where he studied silicones and engineering plastics. His research, which focused on the chemical building blocks needed to make those products, included developing and improving the chemical processes for the production of silanes and siloxanes for making silicones and bisphenol A (BPA) for making polycarbonate resins. Though he holds a couple of patents on these inventions, it hasn't stopped him from changing research focus over the years to such areas as coal and energy; combustion and emission control; flow visualization; and coal gasification and liquefaction. Most recently, while at Penn State, he worked on bioenergy and fuel cells.
Yeboah brings his boundless vision to his job as dean, where he plans to slowly strengthen the school's status and visibility.
"Time is a gift that we have to use to grow, produce and serve — which is synonymous with the motto of the college: 'Quality, Growth and Diversity,'" he said. "My long-term plan is for the college to grow strategically, be diverse and have nationally ranked engineering programs from both the academic and research viewpoints."
He would like to elevate energy education and research both at the College of Engineering and at Florida State as a whole, Yeboah said, noting that "we cannot expect a different outcome if we continue to operate the same way as before. There has to be a change for a different outcome."
A passionate believer in teamwork, Yeboah focuses on what he calls the four Cs: commitment, cohesiveness, collaboration and a sense of community. He has also developed a new mantra for the school: "Two universities, one college — twice the opportunities."
He stressed that overall the college needs to "minimize its differences and operate more as one college," adding that he hopes to revisit the current joint management agreement and "revise it to enhance efficiency, uniformity and the four Cs in our operation for maximum output and outcome."
For now, Yeboah is still getting to know the ins and outs of his new role, though he said he's rapidly leaving the learning stages behind.
The biggest difference between overseeing the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and his administrative work at other schools?
Dual responsibilities. Multiple bosses. However, for Yeboah, it's all totally enjoyable.
"Dean meetings at both schools, dual commencements and things like that," he said with laugh. "Other than that, it's just like any other job."
For more on Yeboah, contact Braketta Ritzenthaler of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering at (850) 410-6214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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