dean sharon wood

Inside the Office of the Dean

One month into her new job, Sharon L. Wood is embracing her life as dean of one of the world’s premier engineering schools. Take a virtual tour of her workspace inside Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall, and get to know Texas Engineering’s active, pragmatic leader.

Dean Wood's Desk Chilean vase framed family photo Cockrell School master facility plan concrete paperweight Cockrell School master facility plan

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Family photo

Raised in central New Jersey, Wood has one sibling, a younger brother named Jim. Her parents, Carol and Jim, still reside in the house where she grew up. Her parents love to garden and most of the backyard is filled with vegetables and flowers.

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Chilean vase

Wood purchased this ceramic vase while studying the structural effects of the 1985 earthquake in Chile. It was one of her first experiences serving on an earthquake reconnaissance team, and the research produced important results. “Based on our surveys and analyses of buildings in Viña del Mar after the earthquake, we were able to relax the U.S. building code requirements for structural walls and provide new opportunities for structural engineers.”

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Concrete paperweight

Hint: Wood’s paperweight is not really a paperweight. It’s actually a passive sensor for detecting corrosion inside concrete structural elements — a revolutionary device that she and her research collaborators developed and tested over the past five years. “It may look like a simple, inconspicuous device, but it could have a major impact on our ability to identify damage in infrastructure systems before it becomes significant,” Wood says. “If we can catch the damage early, the cost of repair is dramatically reduced.”

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Cockrell School Master Facility Plan

The Cockrell School’s Master Facility Plan, introduced in 2009, acts as a blueprint for building, renovating and modernizing UT Austin's engineering facilities in the future. The construction of the Engineering Education and Research Center, which will be completed in 2017, is central to the plan and one of Wood’s core priorities as she begins her tenure as dean.

Dean Wood's momento shelf Chester Paul Siess medal in glass framed photo of bike burnt orange origami moth 3d printed hook 'em hand horny toad figurine Trek bike
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Chester Paul Siess Medal (in glass)

Chester Paul Siess, former civil engineering department head at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and renowned researcher in reinforced concrete, was an influential mentor to Wood as she pursued her graduate studies and began her teaching career. Wood was awarded this medal in 1986 for having the top dissertation in the Department of Civil Engineering.

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Picture of bicycle

A frequent visitor to Italy and a cycling enthusiast, Wood’s friends took this picture while riding through a quiet town in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. She keeps it framed in her office to remind her of the charm of Italian culture. “It’s wonderful. Everybody rides a bike — little children, grandparents, everyone,” she says.

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Burnt orange origami moth

One of Wood’s close friends, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, took up origami as a way of coping with neuropathy, which often accompanies chemotherapy. Her artistic creations were extremely popular and her chemotherapy clinic now provides origami paper for the patients. She constructed this moth in Texas colors and gave it to Wood for inspiration.

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3-D printed Hook ’em hand

Printed last month by an undergraduate student in one of the Cockrell School’s makerspaces, the “Hook ’em” hand is displayed in Wood’s office as both a tribute to Texas Engineering’s role in the invention of 3-D printing technology and a statement of her commitment to the maker movement. Among Wood’s main goals for the school is to enhance students’ experiences by providing more opportunities for hands-on, project-based learning.

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Horny Toad Figurine

In April of this year, Wood won this horny toad for winning the masters women’s division in the Hells Hills 25K trail run in Smithville, Texas. A competitor at heart, she is currently in the midst of training for the 2015 Austin Marathon in February.

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Bicycle

Wood is admittedly passionate about fitness. But to say she is passionate about her bicycle is an understatement. Take a drive through Texas Hill Country on a weekend morning and you just might see her enjoying a group ride with various members of the UT community. “I love riding in Austin. It’s one of the many great things about living in this city — with this weather and this scenery — that I will never take for granted,” Wood said.